GOP House Speaker asks indicted Michigan lawmaker to resign

Larry Inman

Lansing — A northern Michigan lawmaker faces bribery charges and calls to resign his seat in the state House following a federal indictment alleging he attempted to sell his vote on a controversial measure to repeal the state's prevailing wage law for construction workers. 

Prosecutors are accusing Rep. Larry Inman, R-Traverse City, of unlawfully and corruptly soliciting political contributions from a union group for himself and other lawmakers in exchange for a potential “no” vote on the repeal legislation, which he ended up voting for instead.

A grand jury authorized charges against Inman for alleged extortion, bribery and making a false statement to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about conversations with the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights union that were documented in text messages obtained by authorities. 

The bombshell indictment sent shock waves across the Michigan Capitol and prompted House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, to ask for Inman's resignation. But Inman declared his innocence in an afternoon statement, and his attorney told The Detroit News the third-term lawmaker is not resigning as he prepares to fight the charges.

“I am innocent of these charges,” Inman said in the statement. “I have never compromised the integrity of my vote on any issue. I have always represented my constituency honestly and legally. I intend on vigorously defending these charges and my reputation.”

Chatfield said later Wednesday that he had asked Inman to resign from office "in the best interest of this institution" and told reporters the representative was considering the request.

"The conduct and text messages sent by Rep. Larry Inman are completely out of line and completely against the spirit of this entire institution," Chatfield said.

The speaker declined to answer questions about the possibility of an expulsion proceeding should Inman refuse to step down.

House Minority Leader Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, echoed Chatfield's request for Inman's resignation and called on the speaker "to use all the tools at his disposal to take action if Rep. Inman refuses to resign."

The grand jury indictment handed down Tuesday and filed Wednesday in Grand Rapids federal court includes text messages allegedly from Inman that show him seeking campaign contributions from the carpenters and millwrights union, which opposed the initiated legislation. 

“Carpenters have been good to me, where are the rest of the trades on checks?” Inman said in a June 3 text to an unnamed union representative, according to the indictment from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Michigan.

“We only have 12, people to block it. You said all 12 will get $30,000 each to help there (sic) campaigns. That did not happen, we will get a ton of pressure on this vote.”

Inman allegedly sent a carpenters lobbyist a similar text the same day, suggesting $5,000 contributions would not be enough for lawmakers to risk losing committee assignments if they voted against repeal legislation supported by Republican leadership.

"People will not go down for $5,000, not that we dont appreciate it," he wrote, according to the indictment. “Get with all the trades by Monday. I would suggest doubling what you given on Tuesday, asap, we never had this discussion.”

Two days later, Inman again appears to have texted the carpenters union representative and noted he was hosting a breakfast at the Karoub Associates lobbying firm near the state Capitol in downtown Lansing on June 6, the same day the House ended up voting on the repeal measure.

“hope you can make it :) and see if there are checks you can get ,thanks !” the text reads.

The Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights had donated $6,000 to Inman’s campaign committee between October 2017 and May 2018 but did not make any additional donations after his initial June 3 text message, per the indictment.

Inman ended up voting to repeal the law, which had guaranteed union wages and benefits for workers on government-funded construction projects. The Republican-led House approved the measure in a narrow 56-53 vote.

Then-Gov. Rick Snyder had opposed repeal, but lawmakers were able to scrap the law without his signature after a non-union contractors group sent them legislation initiated by a petition drive.

When asked about potential investigations into the 12 lawmakers referenced by Inman in his text, Chatfield said he had not had a chance to read the indictment and had "no recollection of what he's referencing in those statements."

Inman's charges carry maximum sentences of 20, 10 and five years in prison.

He was removed from his committee assignments after news broke of the charges Wednesday, and the House Business Office took control of Inman's office the same day, Chatfield said. 

When asked about the charges by The Detroit News on Wednesday morning, Inman said it was the first he’d heard of them and was “surprised it’s even come out.”

The third-term lawmaker said he spoke with authorities last year about a week after the Legislature’s vote repealing the state’s prevailing wage law.

“They had some questions on the vote,” Inman said. “I don’t have the slightest idea of what direction they’re going and why.”

He said further questions should be directed to his lawyer.

Mike Jackson, executive secretary-treasurer of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, said the union group is “glad that Larry Inman is being brought to justice.”

“Our members deserve elected officials who vote on the merits of a bill, and how it will affect us as taxpayers and hardworking people,” he said in a statement.

According to the indictment, Inman spoke with the FBI on or about Aug. 1, 2018, and an agent asked him if he had communicated with the unnamed union representative for the purpose of soliciting campaign contributions before his vote on the prevailing wage law.

“The defendant denied having any such communications and specifically denied soliciting $30,000 from Person A,” according to the indictment, which alleges Inman knowingly made “materially false, fictitious and fraudulent” comments to law enforcement.

Inman “did corruptly solicit and demand a thing of value, namely a political campaign contribution of money from the MRCCM, intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with a business and transaction of the State of Michigan … namely, his vote in the Michigan House of Representatives.”

Inman is the second state lawmaker to face federal corruption charges in as many years. State Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, resigned in 2018 after pleading guilty to putting a ghost employee on his office payroll.

It is unusual but not unheard of for Michigan lawmakers to face criminal charges related to political fundraising activities, according to Craig Mauger of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“It is rare to have such a clear-cut example,” he said. “These cases are not easy to prosecute because you have to prove that money was given to someone or money was asked from someone and it was tied to an official government action.”

Inman did not report any June fundraisers in disclosure filings with the state despite his text message to the union rep asking him to bring checks to a breakfast the morning of the House vote.

State lawmakers disclosed at least 774 fundraisers in 2018, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Venues near the Capitol were the most popular, and many were held on days when the Legislature was in session.  

“Lawmakers are very directly mixing legislating and fundraising,” Mauger said. “A lot of people showing up are the same group of like 40 lobbyists. It’s not a varied crowd that’s attending these fundraisers.”

It’s unclear whether the federal investigation that led to the grand jury indictment remains open and whether other lawmakers could be ensnared in the case. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined additional comment.

Sen. Wayne Schmidt, a fellow Traverse City Republican who Inman succeeded in the state House, said he was “surprised” by the indictment but declined additional comment.

Liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan called on Inman to immediately resign and used his indictment as an opportunity to call for expanding the state’s Freedom of Information Act, which currently exempts lawmakers from public records requests.

“Today’s indictment is further proof that we need more transparency and lobby reform in Michigan,” said executive director Lonnie Scott. If Inman does not step down, “we expect Speaker Lee Chatfield to immediately begin the process of expelling Inman from the Legislature.”

Inman raised $127,855 for his successful 2018 campaign, according to a post-election disclosure report filed with the Michigan Secretary of State. He narrowly won re-election in November, topping Democratic challenger Dan O’Neil by 349 votes, a margin of less than 1 percentage point.

Campaign finance records show that the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan, which helped spearhead the prevailing wage repeal initiative, donated $1,000 to Inman’s campaign committee one week after his June 2018 vote. The group’s political action committee had contributed $1,500 to Inman earlier in the year.

Inman worked as vice president of Huntington National Bank and served as a Grand Traverse County Commissioner before winning election to the state House in 2014. He holds a criminal justice degree from Northern Michigan University, according to his LinkedIn profile, and is known as an avid Amelia Earhart collector, historian and researcher.