Inman after being cleared of 1 of 3 charges: 'I am an innocent man'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — A jury cleared one of three criminal charges against state Rep. Larry Inman on Tuesday but was unable to reach verdicts on the two more serious charges against the Republican from the Traverse City area.

The jury found Inman not guilty of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But jurors were unable to reach unanimous verdicts on charges of attempted extortion and solicitation of a bribe. 

Rep. Larry Inman, left, talks to reporters after jurors found him not guilty of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors alleged Inman tried to sell his 2018 vote on repealing the state's prevailing wage law, which set pay standards for state-funded construction projects, to unions that opposed repeal.

As he left the federal courthouse in Grand Rapids on Tuesday, Inman said he was relieved and looking forward to getting back to representing his district in the Michigan House.

"I am an innocent man," Inman said. "I told the truth."

The jury's decisions Tuesday evening came after more than 11 hours of deliberation, which started on Monday. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher O'Connor said in court Tuesday that prosecutors wanted to schedule another trial regarding the two unresolved charges.

However, Chris Cooke, Inman's attorney, told reporters that he hopes federal prosecutors will reconsider that idea and not put Inman through any more "pain."

"It's been a nightmare for him," Cooke said.

According to a Pew Research Center report, only 320 of 79,704 federal defendants in fiscal year 2018 — fewer than 1% — went to trial and won their cases with an acquittal.

As jurors departed the courthouse on Tuesday night, multiple jurors said they were simply unable to resolve differences of opinion.

One of the 12 members of the jury, Steve Gould of Manistee, said there were nuances between criminal activity and the legal collection of money for a campaign. Gould said the jury was stuck in those nuances.

On the charge Inman lied to the FBI, Gould said the standard for a guilty verdict was "beyond a reasonable doubt."

"There was some reasonable doubt," Gould said.

Prosecutors alleged that Inman lied to an FBI agent when the agent interviewed him on Aug. 1, 2018. Prosecutors said Inman denied sending text messages about two months earlier referencing $30,000 and the prevailing wage vote.

One juror, Martin Visser of Grand Haven, noted Inman had said he didn't remember sending the text messages. Visser said that statement "seemed sufficient."

Visser said the jury was split about six-six on whether Inman was guilty of soliciting a bribe and attempted extortion.

"It went back and forth but never substantially," Visser said of the division.

In May, prosecutors charged Inman with attempted extortion, solicitation of a bribe and lying to the FBI.

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

Inman has maintained his innocence since the charges became public. Inman's trial began on Dec. 3.

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

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.

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."

O'Connor urged jurors on Monday to use "common sense" when considering the charges against Inman.

"There's nothing ambiguous or gibberish about what the defendant is communicating," O'Connor told jurors of Inman's text message.

Cooke, Inman's attorney, asked jurors not to convict Inman based simply on two text messages. He also highlighted Inman's use of prescription pain medication, which defense witnesses alleged impacted Inman's memory.

On Tuesday evening, Inman said he was still considering returning to the Michigan House on Wednesday. Inman has continued serving in the House since his indictment in May, but he's been absent since his trial began.

House Republican leadership previously kicked Inman out of the House GOP caucus, removed him from his committee assignments and blocked his access to his Lansing office.

Inman said he hopes to have his committee assignments and office access reinstated.

"I want to go back and represent the residents of Grand Traverse County because that's what I was elected to do," Inman said.