Inman called 'wacky,' 'untruthful' as lawmakers, FBI agent testify in bribery trial
Grand Rapids — One Michigan House staffer said state Rep. Larry Inman had a reputation for being "wacky." Another testified that Inman was dependent on pain medication. And a fellow lawmaker said Inman "tended to worship a dead aviator."
The descriptions came Thursday, the third day of Inman's bribery trial in federal court. Toward the end of the day, however, it was an agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation who provided specific testimony linked to one of the three criminal charges against the Williamsburg Republican.
Jeremy Ashcroft, special agent for the FBI, alleged that Inman denied during an August 2018 interview that he had sent a text message referencing $30,000.
At the time of that interview, the FBI had obtained text messages that showed Inman asked union lobbyists specifically about $30,000 in campaign contributions in connection to an upcoming vote to repeal the state's prevailing wage law, which set pay standards for certain public construction projects.
"He denied that," Ashcroft said Thursday.
Later in his testimony, Ashcroft spoke about another encounter with Inman in December 2018. Ashcroft said Inman had been "untruthful" throughout the second interview.
Lying to the FBI is one of three charges that federal prosecutors have levied against Inman, who they say attempted to sell his vote on prevailing wage repeal to unions that wanted to win over enough Republicans to block repeal. The two other charges are attempted extortion and solicitation of a bribe.
Since charges were filed in May, Inman has said he's innocent and wants to clear his name. During the trial this week, defense attorney Chris Cooke has focused on Inman's use of prescription pain medication.
Trey Hines, Inman's former legislative staffer, testified Thursday that Inman had become "increasingly unable to focus" in 2018 after a major stomach surgery. Inman forgot to go to constituent meetings, fell asleep on the couch after House session and took pain medication "by the handful."
Inman sought treatment for opioid addiction after charges filed against him in May 2019.
Inman's mental state and the intentions behind his alleged actions have been a focus for prosecutors and Cooke as they make their arguments before the jury.
After court proceedings ended Thursday, Cooke rejected the idea that Inman lied to authorities. Cooke told reporters that the lawmaker had always been truthful and cooperative with law enforcement.
"As evidenced by the way, he allowed that officer to enter his home, spend two hours with him, talking to him and then voluntarily went in and talked again," Cooke said of Inman's interviews with investigators. "I thought he was very cooperative and forthright."
Inman initially believed authorities' investigation was into something larger and not about him, Cooke added.
Prosecutors have been presenting their case against Inman since the trial began Tuesday. They're expected to conclude Friday. Cooke will then call witnesses, and the case is expected to go to the jury on Monday or Tuesday.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield was among those who testified Thursday. Prosecutors used Chatfield, R-Levering, to cast doubt on explanations Inman gave union lobbyists about his vote on prevailing repeal.
Chatfield testified that House GOP leadership didn't threaten to revoke Inman's committee assignments and that Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, was always considered a no vote on the proposed repeal of the prevailing wage law.
According to court documents, Inman texted a union lobbyist before the vote to urge additional campaign contributions and to describe pressure he was facing from Republicans. Inman wrote that Chatfield "will pull assignments for next term" if members voted against repeal.
Inman didn't receive the additional campaign contributions from the unions and ended up voting in favor of repeal. After the vote, Inman texted union lobbyists that he switched from a no to a yes on prevailing wage repeal to allow Bellino to vote against repeal and to "save" Bellino's seat in a union-heavy district.
But Chatfield testified that "Rep. Bellino was always in the no column."
Bellino also testified on Thursday, saying that Republicans in leadership "all knew" his position.
Prosecutors have been relying heavily on the text messages Inman sent to lobbyists for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, which was working to get majority Republicans to join Democrats in opposition to prevailing wage repeal.
In one message to the union's political director, Lisa Canada, Inman referenced other Republicans: "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, "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."
Chatfield said Thursday that Inman's text messages with union lobbyists broke a "commonly" understood rule that lawmakers not directly link fundraising to legislation.
"They should all be very aware," the House speaker said of the rule after referencing training sessions done for lawmakers on the subject.
Cooke focused many of his questions Thursday on Inman's mental state, noting that Inman had five surgeries over a 28-month period. Inman has said his use of prescription pain medication reduced his cognitive ability.
Bellino said Inman acted differently than other lawmakers and would stare out the window and not look at colleagues while speaking in closed-door caucus meetings.
"He tended to worship a dead aviator," Bellino added, referring to Inman's well-known hobby of studying pilot Amelia Earhart and collecting memorabilia related to her.
Inman had a reputation for being "wacky" and "goofy," said Dan Pero, who served as chief of staff for former House Speaker Tom Leonard. Leonard, R-DeWitt, was speaker at the time of the prevailing wage vote.
But multiple witnesses have testified that Inman understood the decisions he was making. Pero described him as well versed on issues. And even Hines, Inman's staffer who thought Inman had become dependent on prescription medication, said he believed Inman knew right from wrong.