Prosecutors want new corruption trial against Inman; judge suggests it's not required

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — Federal prosecutors want another chance to convince a jury that state Rep. Larry Inman sought a bribe from a union lobbyist, but it's unclear whether a new trial will actually happen.

During a Thursday court hearing here in Grand Rapids, Judge Robert Jonker questioned whether a retrial is "mandated" after a jury deadlocked on two charges against Inman, R-Williamsburg. Jonker also questioned whether a new trial would have a chilling effect on candidates who have a constitutional right to raise money for their campaigns.

Rep. Larry Inman, left, and his attorney, Chris Cooke, answer questions on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019, after the second day of Inman's trial in Grand Rapids.

"We have an inherently fuzzy line," the judge said, referring to the line between legal fundraising and criminal acts

A month ago, a jury couldn't reach a verdict on two charges that alleged Inman solicited a bribe and attempted to extort a union lobbyist. But the jury found Inman not guilty of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Federal prosecutors argued Inman tried to sell his 2018 vote on repealing the state's prevailing wage law, which set pay standards for state-funded construction projects mostly along union rates. Since the charges against him in May, Inman has maintained his innocence.

The 65-year-old lawmaker also has continued to serve in the Michigan House, where Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, has taken Inman's access to his staff and his official office space away from him.

After the Thursday hearing, Inman said he plans to ask Chatfield to give him back his staff and office access. His office belongs to the citizens of Grand Traverse County, the county he represents, the legislator argued.

"If you are a man of God and a man of the Constitution, as he is proclaimed, then he should give me back my office because I have not been convicted of anything yet," Inman said of Chatfield.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher O'Connor wants another chance to get a conviction against Inman. O'Connor argued Thursday that the government is "entitled" to a retrial.

Jonker said if another trial happens, it will likely occur in July after both sides make their arguments about a second trial in court filings in the coming months.

O'Connor said one of the 12 jurors from the previous case had contacted him and informed him that another juror announced he or she had made up their mind before any evidence was presented in court.

The juror also told O'Connor that a third juror threw up during deliberations and refused to participate.

But Jonker and Chris Cooke, Inman's attorney, credited the work the jury had put into the previous case.

"I think the jury did a great job," Cooke told reporters. "They were out two days, and they really gave a lot of time, energy and effort."

Cooke questioned how prosecutors could retry Inman after he was found not guilty of lying to the FBI over text messages that were at the center of the other two charges against him.

"I think there is a lot better things we could be doing with our time," Cooke said of the possibility of a second trial.

According to a court document, the extortion charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. The bribery charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Rep. Larry Inman sent this text message to Lisa Canada, political director for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights on June 3, 2018.

Prosecutors' arguments have focused on text messages Inman sent to lobbyists for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights on June 3, 2018.

In one message to Lisa Canada, political director for the carpenters union, Inman referenced other Republican lawmakers: "We only have 12 people to block it. You said all 12 will get $30,000 each to help there (sic) campaigns ... I have heard most got $5,000, not $30,000." 

He added in the text, "People will not go down for $5,000, not that we don't appreciate it ... 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."