State Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) “was untruthful” with federal law enforcement in at least two interviews prior to his May indictment.
That’s according to the Thursday testimony of FBI Special Agent Jeremy Ashcroft, who investigated the allegations that Inman sought to sell his vote on prevailing wage in exchange for campaign contributions from labor unions.
Ashcroft, who works out of the bureau’s Lansing office, was assigned the case last summer after Lisa Canada, political and legislative director for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, turned over text messages to Michigan State Police last June in which Inman sought financial help ahead of the vote.
This was the third straight day of proceedings in Grand Rapids’ federal court where Inman stands accused of bribery, extortion and lying to the FBI.
What emerged on Thursday, during which seven witnesses for the prosecution testified, was a portrait of Inman as something of a loner in the state Legislature. While some colleagues described Inman as “wacky” and “different” and had trouble focusing, there was some general agreement that Inman was typically cognizant and capable of discerning right from wrong.
“I thought [Inman] was different,” testified state Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe), noting Inman’s fascination with Amelia Earhart. “He tended to worship a dead aviator.”
‘Truthfulness in question’
At around 6:30 a.m.on Aug. 1, 2018, Ashcroft and other agents executed a search warrant for Inman’s cell phone at his northern Michigan home. Inman was cooperative and agreed to be interviewed by Ashcroft at that time.
Ashcroft, who had seen the texts Inman is accused of sending to Canada, said the lawmaker denied asking for any amount of money.
“People will not go down for $5,000, not that we dont [sic] appreciate it,” read part of Inman’s text to Canada ahead of the vote. “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, asap, we never had this discussion, Larry.”
Ashcroft testified that he and Inman reconnected for a follow-up interview over the phone in late-October. By that time Inman had his cell phone returned to him and had gone through the text messages he had previously been asked about and realized he had been pressuring the union.
“[Inman] said he wanted to come in because he wanted to tell the truth,” Ashcroft told the court of that phone call.
Ashcroft again interviewed Inman that December in Lansing, during which Inman’s attorney, Chris Cooke, was present. At that time, Inman told Ashcroft about his dependence on opioids, due to multiple surgeries.
Inman’s defense has laid out that the lawmaker’s dependence on prescription drugs and diminished capacity may have led to his actions.
Ashcroft, however, did not buy that argument.
“His truthfulness was in question during that December meeting,” Ashcroft said from the witness stand.
Cooke thoroughly disputes that.
“Rep. Inman has always told the truth about what happened and has always cooperated,” Cooke told reporters on Thursday after court proceedings.
In addition to lying to the FBI, Inman faces charges of attempted bribery and extortion.
Trey Hines, Inman’s legislative director, testified that the lawmaker’s dependence on opioids as a result of pain from stomach surgery began ramping up around January of 2018. At that time he was worried that Inman was “losing it,” as his use of prescription drugs ramped up.
Hines had to drive Inman multiple times from Lansing to his Traverse City-area home and testified to the amount of pain Inman was experiencing.
The lawmaker would often return from House sessions and immediately take an hour-long nap at his office across the street from the Capitol, Hines said.
While others also testified that Inman appeared to be in pain for much of 2018, it was generally agreed that Inman was capable of performing his job as a state representative.
Inman’s text to Canada days ahead of the vote included concern that if he voted against the repeal of prevailing wage, there would be retribution handed down by then-House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt) and then-Speaker Pro Tem Lee Chatfield (R-Levering).
Inman told Canada that Chatfield, who is now speaker, would pull committee assignments.
But in sworn testimony on Thursday, Chatfield, Bellino and Dan Pero, Leonard’s former chief of staff, all said there was no truth to that.
Bellino voted against the repeal of the law and was not stripped of committee assignments.
Similar to lobbyists who testified on Wednesday, Chatfield labeled Inman’s texts as “inappropriate.” Inman should have known better, Chatfield said.
That’s because members of the GOP caucus undergo training to ensure they’re educated about what’s right and wrong when it comes to fundraising.
Members, Chatfield said, are aware that raising campaign funds can’t be tied to a particular vote.
“All representatives are concerned about raising funds,” Chatfield said in testimony. “But we need to not mix issues.”