“We never had this discussion.”
Michigan state Rep. Larry Inman (R) used those foreboding words to end a text to a representative from a local union last June.
Those messages are now in the hands of federal prosecutors and Inman is busy trying to beat back a three-count indictment for extortion, bribery and lying to the FBI handed down by a grand jury two weeks ago.
It all started last summer when an indirect initiated state statute (one step away from a ballot proposal) on the payment of construction workers came to the statehouse floor. The statute would have repealed a state law requiring that workers be paid “prevailing wages and fringe benefits” on state-funded projects. In general, Republicans wanted to repeal the law; Democrats were for keeping it.
Inman was on the fence. So, according to the indictment, he decided to see if he could get a hefty check to sway him in one direction or the other.
“I hear the prevailing wage vote may be on Wednesday. In my opinion, we all need some more help!” Inman texted an unnamed representative for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights on June 3, according to the indictment. “Carpenters have been good to me, where are the rest of the trades on checks? We only have 12, people to block it.”
“Its [sic] not worth losing assignments and staff for $5,000, in the end,” he continued. “I am not sure you can hold 12 people for the only help of $5,000. My suggestion is you need to get people maxed out, on Tuesday, I will do my best to hold.” He suggested a sum of $30,000, broken up among multiple trade associations.
“We never had this discussion, Larry,” he concluded.
He followed up on June 5 with logistical details about a breakfast, adding: “see if there are checks you can get, thanks!”
Per the indictment, the union never gave Inman campaign contributions after the texts. The lawmaker ended up joining the majority to vote for repealing the law, against the union’s interest.
Before long, the FBI caught wind of Inman’s attempted extortion; an agent asked him about it on August 1. Inman “denied having any such communications.”
Fast forward to May 15 of this year, when the grand jury handed down its indictment. Inman was hit with three counts — attempted extortion under color of official right (20 years in prison maximum and/or a $250,000 fine), solicitation of a bribe (10 years max and/or a $250,000 fine) and false statement to the FBI (five years max and/or a $250,000 fine).
Inman, who did not respond to TPM’s interview requests, told the Detroit News that day that he was “surprised it’s even come out.” He said he spoke with authorities last year because “they had some questions on the vote.”
“I don’t have the slightest idea of what direction they’re going and why,” he added.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) was less foggy on the situation. He removed Inman from all of his committee assignments, booted him from his office and called for his resignation.
In a rare moment of bipartisanship, House Minority Speaker Christine Greig agreed with her Republican counterpart.
“Speaker Chatfield has a duty to pursue all options if Rep. Inman refuses to resign,” House Democrats’ press secretary Aneta Kiersnowski told TPM in a statement. “House Democrats join our colleagues across the aisle in calling for Rep. Inman’s immediate resignation and look to Speaker Chatfield to use all the tools at his disposal to take action if Rep. Inman insists on refusing.”
So far, Inman is trying to muscle through. At his arraignment on Tuesday, where he pleaded not guilty to all charges, he directed reporters’ questions to his lawyer, Chris Cooke.
“There’s no plans to resign right now,” Cooke said, as Inman apologetically dodged the mob.
Inman was more chatty in the immediate aftermath of the charges, holding round-robin interviews in his office and calling the charges “bullshit.”
“There’s always another side to a story,” he said at the time. “The explanation of those texts will come out, and there is a rationale behind those that in essence really didn’t come from me.”
That explanation remains elusive for now though, because Inman has reportedly not shown up to work since the indictment.
Wherever the embattled lawmaker is, he’s probably wishing he never had that discussion.