Michigan GOP ex-lawmaker can't be retried on bribery, extortion charges, judge says

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Former Michigan State Rep. Larry Inman will not be retried on bribery and extortion charges after his first trial ended with an acquittal on one charge and a hung jury on two others. 

To retry the northern Michigan lawmaker would have a chilling effect on free speech rights and may be barred by double jeopardy because the jury acquitted Inman of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about his innocence of bribery and extortion charges, U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker ruled Monday. 

For the acquittal on the lying charge to have full effect and not run afoul of double jeopardy, prosecutors "must be barred from retrying the other counts," he wrote.

The government in its closing arguments cemented the link between the lying charge and the two others, Jonker wrote, quoting from the transcript: 

"Ladies and gentlemen, the only way you can find the defendant not guilty in this trial is if you believe his testimony. That’s it."

Former State Rep. Larry Inman, R-Williamsburg, won't face extortion and bribery charges after a ruling by Grand Rapids U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker.

Inman, R-Williamsburg, said Monday he was relieved by the decision and praised the judge for protecting his constitutional rights and the integrity of the jury system. 

"I am just so elated and happy that the judge has decided to dismiss the two charges," Inman said. "I don't have a lot of faith in the federal justice system other than the judge and the jury."

Inman, who sought treatment for opioid addiction ahead of his trial, added, "Sometimes, it takes something tragic to make you realize you've got a problem."

U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge said his office is exploring its options after Jonker's Monday ruling. 

"The principle my office has been seeking to enforce with the prosecution is grounded in United States Supreme Court precedent: It is a crime for a public official to solicit or demand something of value, even campaign contributions, in exchange for an official act,” Birge said in a statement.​​​

Federal prosecutors had argued that 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 union lobbyists who opposed the repeal.  

Prosecutors focused on text messages Inman sent to lobbyists 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."

Prosecutors argued Inman made false statements to the FBI when he denied soliciting $30,000 from Canada for his vote during a later interview about his interactions ahead of the vote. The jury acquitted him on that count.

"...By acquitting on Count 3, the jury necessarily rejected not just this particular charge, but also a key predicate to the overall quid pro quo theory that was essential to an extortion and bribery theory," Jonker wrote.

The government, Jonker wrote, had to prove Inman's messages to Canada was an attempt at a "quid pro quo" that rose to the level of extortion and solicitation of a bribe, "not simply an inartful attempt to feel out whether a natural political adversary might be turned by circumstances into an unexpected ally."

Inman was "more blatant and less subtle" than other lobbyists or lawmakers who may be more "polished," Jonker wrote.

"But there was no evidence of under-the-table payments or solicitations; there was only the pursuit and payment of fully reportable campaign contributions like those made across-the-board on high profile issues like this one," the judge wrote. "Without the 'plus factor' of lying to the FBI, retrial here would inevitably risk chilling legitimate First Amendment solicitation of campaign contributions." 

After Inman was charged in 2019, House Republican leadership kicked Inman out of the House GOP caucus, removed him from his committee assignments and blocked his access to his Lansing office. House Speaker Lee Chatfield also asked Inman to resign, but the lawmaker refused.

Inman also was the subject of a recall attempt, but the 14,000 signatures on the recall petition were ruled invalid by the Michigan Bureau of Elections because of a key typographical error.