Updated, 6:21 a.m. 12/4/19
The federal jury trial against state Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) kicked off Tuesday with testimony from the northern Michigan lawmaker’s “chief accuser,” as she was called by a defense attorney.
Lisa Canada, political and legislative director for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights (MRCC) for a decade, testified in federal court in Grand Rapids to what she saw as unprecedented texts from Inman saying he’d need additional campaign contributions in exchange for voting against the repeal of prevailing wage.
The third-term lawmaker from Grand Traverse County stands accused of soliciting a bribe, extortion and lying to federal law enforcement, all connected to last year’s legislative vote to repeal prevailing wage, a union policy strongly supported by the Carpenters.
“I was shocked and I was angry,” Canada told prosecutors of the texts she received from Inman, saying that she interpreted them to mean that Inman would vote to repeal prevailing wage — which he did — unless more money was sent to him.
“People will not go down for $5,000, not that we dont [sic] appreciate it,” Inman said last year in one of the texts submitted as evidence against him. “Please get with the all the trades by Monday, I would suggest maxing out on all 12, or at least doubling what you have given them on Tuesday.”
Canada testified that she relayed that text and others to a lobbyist she was working with, Noah Smith of Capitol Services, with the message: “this is from motherfucking Inman.”
Canada ultimately turned those text messages over to the FBI, leading to the indictment.
The state Legislature voted to repeal the prevailing wage last summer with support from Inman and several of his GOP colleagues. Following the indictment, Inman was booted from the House Republican caucus, but has resisted calls for his resignation.
But a recorded phone call introduced as evidence on the first day of the trial raises questions into the motivations Inman may have had in sending those text messages.
The phone call — just weeks after the prevailing wage vote — was placed by Canada to Inman with FBI agents listening in, unbeknownst to the lawmaker.
On the call, Inman says he “was fine” with the money he had previously received from the union and agreed to return a previous $4,000 campaign contribution the union had made, something Canada said she’d never experienced.
Inman also sympathized with the union’s desire to withdraw a previous endorsement due to his vote to repeal prevailing wage.
On the phone call with Canada, the lawmaker said the text messages were sent in a panic due to the pressure he was facing from GOP leadership over the prevailing wage vote. Inman said he “felt horrible” that then-state House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) “won” the vote and “your people lost it.”
Leonard has been nominated by President Donald Trump to be the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Michigan, which is prosecuting the case, but he has not yet been confirmed.
Citing his relative lack of experience in state politics as a second-term legislator, Inman said that he wasn’t sure whether additional campaign contributions to his campaign or those of his colleagues would have swayed the vote.
In his opening statement, Inman attorney Chris Cooke told the court that “no one got hurt and not one dime changed hands,” as a result of his client’s actions.
Inman had been facing a recall effort in his House district; however, the state last ruled the signatures invalid due to typos in the petition language. The recall effort has since appealed that decision, but it’s unclear if the appeal will move forward.
Early on in Tuesday’s proceedings, Cooke told the court he has learned that the Carpenters union had donated approximately $60,000 to the recall effort, which he believes could show that the union was prejudiced against Inman*.
It’s unclear whether that detail will be presented to jurors as prosecuting attorneys said they plan to leave out any events that occurred after Inman was indicted, deeming them irrelevant to the facts of the case.
The union declined to comment on the alleged contribution, which would not have to be reported.*
Cooke told reporters that it could be decided by Wednesday whether to present that information to jurors.
For his part, Inman appeared in good spirits on Tuesday as the estimated one-week trial commenced. Upon leaving the courthouse in Grand Rapids, Inman wished reporters a good day and thanked them for attending the proceedings.
Other planned witnesses for the prosecution include state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), state Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe), lobbyists Smith with Capitol Services and Jim Kirsch of Kelley Cawthorne, both of whom were working with Canada to prevent the prevailing wage repeal.