Rep. Inman at bribery trial: 'I am an innocent person'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — State Rep. Larry Inman took the stand in his bribery trial Friday, telling a jury that he "did nothing wrong" and didn't remember sending text messages that helped spur criminal charges against him. 

"I am an innocent person," the Traverse City area, third-term lawmaker testified. "I did not do these things."

Inman, R-Williamsburg, could be the final witness in his trial in federal court, which began Tuesday morning. Prosecutors contend Inman attempted to sell his vote in 2018 on whether to repeal Michigan's prevailing wage law to unions in exchange for campaign contributions.

State Rep. Larry Inman talks to reporters in the Michigan House on Sept. 3, 2019.

Prosecutors have charged Inman with attempted extortion, solicitation of a bribe and lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Inman has said he wants to clear his name.

Inman's mental state, his reliance on prescription pain medication and June 2018 text messages he sent to union lobbyists tying $30,000 in campaign contributions to the prevailing wage vote have been at the center of the case.

On Friday, Inman's attorney, Chris Cooke, presented an orange Nike shoe box filled with prescription drugs that Inman had been hoarding after a series of major surgeries. Inman testified that the box contained about 1,000 pills.

Two individuals who've worked on Inman's campaigns also testified Friday that they had seen Inman carry a tote bag of prescription pills. Defense witnesses have said the legislator's heavy use of prescription medications caused him forget things and miss appointments.

Inman testified that he didn't remember sending two text messages to lobbyists on June 3, 2018 — three days before the prevailing wage vote — directly connecting campaign contributions to the vote.

The prevailing wage law set pay standards for state-funded construction projects. Opponents of the law were pushing to repeal it in 2018, but unions, including the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, were fighting to keep it.

In one message to Lisa Canada, the carpenters' political director, 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 in the text, "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."

Inman sent a similar message to Jim Kirsch, a multi-client lobbyist who was working for the carpenters.

But Inman contradicted his text messages in court, testifying that he didn't talk with any other state lawmaker or union official about how many contributions another lawmaker received.

"I have no idea where this $5,000 came from," Inman said about the $5,000 figure he mentioned in his text message to Canada.

In addition to saying he didn't remember sending the messages, Inman tried to explain the messages' content in court.

"If you'd like to break this down, I'd love to talk to you about it," Inman at one point told Christopher O'Connor, assistant U.S. attorney.

Inman said he was receiving information that supporters of repealing the prevailing wage were winning over more Republican lawmakers and he was suggesting the unions needed to solidify the GOP opponents.

As for the text's ending "we never had this discussion," Inman said that was because he didn't want Republican leadership to know he was talking to unions that normally support Democrats.

Authorities have alleged that Inman denied in an August 2018 interview, about a month after the text messages, ever sending messages to union officials referencing $30,000.

Inman testified Friday that when he searched his phone — after the FBI visited his home in August 2018 — he "couldn't believe" the text messages he realized he had sent, specifically mentioning $30,000.

Inman also said the $30,000 figure came from a November 2017 event at a Lansing steakhouse organized by the carpenters union. Inman said he "distinctly" remembers Lisa Canada, a lobbyist who worked for the carpenters, saying the union had $30,000 to help lawmakers who "help us."

Canada has denied offering $30,000 in connection to the prevailing wage vote.

Inman testified that he believes $30,000 was the union's total budget for working on the issue. That's despite his text message saying "all 12 will get $30,000 each."

Prosecution witness described Inman as "wacky" and "untruthful" earlier in the week. But on Friday, defense witnesses — Brad McGuire, who worked on Inman's legislative staff, and Ashleigh Ackerman, who consulted on his campaign — said Inman is "honest" and a person of "integrity."

Inman wouldn't even allow her to post photographs of Inman with children on social media unless she got the approval of the children's parents, Ackerman said.

Friday's proceedings in Inman's case concluded at about 2 p.m. after Inman's testimony. Attorneys will make their closing arguments on Monday. Then, the case will go to the jury, which will decide whether there's reasonable evidence to find Inman guilty of the three charges.

The charges have been pending since May. After they were filed, Inman sought treatment for opioid addiction but continued serving in the Michigan House.

Early Friday, Judge Robert Jonker rejected a motion from Cooke to take Inman's bribery case out of the hands of the jury and issue a not guilty verdict.

After prosecutors called their last witness in the case on Friday morning, Cooke argued that no reasonable jury could declare Inman guilty based on the evidence.

Cooke cited jurisdictional problems with the bribery charge, denied there was evidence Inman intentionally made false statements to the FBI and said Inman took "no overt" steps to solicit a bribe.

"I don't think there's any evidence of the overt act that was a substantial step," Cooke told the judge.

Jonker disagreed and shot down Cooke's motion

"I think the jury could reasonably return a verdict for either the defense or the government," Jonker told the attorneys.

cmauger@detroitnews.com