Rep. Marino 'made himself unavailable' for Inman case

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — State Rep. Steve Marino's name came up repeatedly during the first week of Rep. Larry Inman's federal bribery trial, but the Macomb County legislator supposedly hasn't been available to tell his story.

Jeremy Ashcroft, special agent for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified Friday that the FBI tried to scheduled interviews with Marino, R-Harrison Township, who sat next to Inman on the House floor. The interviews didn't occur, and Marino stopped returning calls, Ashcroft said.

Similarly, Inman's attorney Chris Cooke said Marino "made himself unavailable." Cooke said he had an investigator out trying to subpoena Marino without success.

Steve Marino.

Cooke said prosecutors would have had more resources to force the cooperation of Marino, a second-term House member who once claimed before winning state office that he picked up bar tabs for state lawmakers as a lobbyist — which he later denied. 

"I would have presumed that Steve Marino would have been subpoenaed and brought in here, and we would know what he has to say about the whole situation," Cooke told reporters on Friday.

Cooke described Marino as a "pretty important" player in Inman's case. Prosecutors have charged Inman with attempted extortion, solicitation of a bribe and lying to the FBI. The charges stem from a 2018 vote to repeal the state's prevailing wage, a law that set union pay standards for state-funded construction projects.

Prosecutors allege Inman tried to sell his vote to unions who supported the prevailing wage and wanted the repeal blocked. Inman says he's innocent.

Marino, who witnesses say sat next to Inman on the House floor in 2018, did not return requests for comment from The Detroit News on Friday. Marino was present for House session on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to official journals.

Inman's trial is expected to continue on Monday in federal court in Grand Rapids.

Cooke has suggested in his questioning of other witnesses that Marino kept a document of fellow Republicans' stances on the prevailing wage — the issue at the center of Inman's trial.

The document, if it exists, could be significant because witnesses have disagreed about the details of Inman's switching his stances on prevailing wage repeal.

Prosecutors say Inman switched from a no vote to a yes vote because he didn't receive additional campaign contributions from unions. Inman's side says he switched because his district didn't feel strongly about the issue and because he wanted to help Rep. Joe Bellino, R-Monroe, to vote against repeal because Bellino's district has a strong union presence.

Marino opposed repealing the prevailing wage.

Campaign finance disclosures show Marino was one of six House Republicans who received campaign contributions of at least $4,000 in May 2018 from the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights PAC, a union that was fighting against repeal. Inman received a $4,000 check from the carpenters PAC but returned it after voting in favor of repeal, according to testimony.

Text messages that Inman sent to lobbyists for the carpenters union helped spur criminal charges against Inman.

Inman sent messages on June 3, 2018, that encouraged the lobbyists to make more campaign contributions to a group of 12 Republicans who were considering joining Democrats in blocking prevailing wage repeal.

Rep. Larry Inman, left, stands with reporters and his attorney, Chris Cooke, outside federal court in  Grand Rapids after the first day of his trial on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019.

"People will not go down for $5,000, not that we don't appreciate it," Inman wrote in one message.

Inman testified in court on Friday that Marino said he was going to call Lisa Canada, the carpenters' political director, to make sure the 12 Republicans who were potential no votes on prevailing wage "got some sort of campaign check."

Inman also testified that Marino played a key role in his ultimate decision to vote in favor of prevailing wage repeal.

On the day of the vote, June 6, 2018, Marino suggested Inman talk with Reps. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, and Dave Pagel, R-Oronoko Township, about prevailing wage repeal, according to testimony.

But Lucido and Pagel had decided to support repeal, and Inman said his conversation with Lucido and Pagel convinced him there were enough votes to pass the repeal legislation. Inman joined in supporting the legislation.

Two current lawmakers, House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, and Bellino, have testified in Inman's trial. Cooke told reporters Friday that he has "no clue" why Marino hadn't been forced to testify.

Staff reporter Beth LeBlanc contributed.