Inman denies sending ‘goofy’ texts fishing for cash from lobbyists

By: - December 6, 2019 5:32 pm

Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg), May 16, 2019 | Nick Manes

Embattled state Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) took the witness stand in his own defense on Friday, and proclaimed himself “an innocent man.” 

In about 90 minutes of examination led by his attorney, Chris Cooke, and followed by the prosecution, Inman walked through his decline in health since he took office in 2014, having multiple surgeries that at times had him taking more than a dozen opioid pain pills per day, he said. 

That dependence on pain pills caused him frequent memory problems and he claimed he had no recollection of sending text messages to lobbyists in early June 2018 seeking campaign contributions ahead of a major vote on the repeal of prevailing wage.

Members of Inman’s staff also testified he experienced memory problems as his dependence on opioids increased over the years. 

Inman said he never even saw the texts until months later when his phone was returned to him by FBI agents who ceased it as part of their investigation. 

“This doesn’t even sound like me. … I had no idea I sent anything like that,” Inman testified about first seeing the texts, adding that he thought they were “ranting and raving” and looked “goofy.” 

Friday marked the fourth day of Inman’s federal trial in Grand Rapids where he’s accused of attempted extortion, bribery and lying to the FBI.

On Friday morning, after the government rested its case, Cooke sought a full acquittal on all charges, stating that the prosecution had failed to reach the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Judge Robert Jonker denied that request, ensuring that a jury will decide the case, possibly as soon as on Monday. 

“From where the proofs stand now, I think the jury could reasonably return a verdict for either party,” Jonker said.

While Inman acknowledged that texts to lobbyists Lisa Canada and Jim Kirsch — both working to preserve the prevailing wage law — came from his phone, he claims he has no recollection of sending them on the morning of June 3, 2018, just days before the vote. 

He also told the court a lengthy story of how he ultimately came to vote “yes” to repeal the law, despite long supporting it and having been considered “undecided” by former Rep. Rob VerHeulen (R-Walker), the Republican caucus whip who counts votes.

While the prosecution claims Inman only decided to vote for repeal once it became clear he wasn’t going to get the union campaign contributions, Inman said his decision was made once he talked to construction executives in his district who disliked the law. 

Joseph Bellino

That decision was cemented, he said, once he talked with an unnamed staff member of former state House Speaker Tom Leonard (R-DeWitt), who told him that he needed to vote “yes” to allow state Rep. Joe Bellino (R-Monroe) to vote against repeal in his union-heavy district. 

Both Bellino and now-House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), who was the No. 2 in the House last year, testified on Thursday that Bellino was always a “no” vote on prevailing wage. 

Inman’s text messages to the lobbyists, the focal point of the prosecution’s case, contain references to 12 GOP members of the House who “all need help.” 

He testified that information came from state Rep. Steve Marino (R-Harrison Twp.), who Inman said had been keeping his own count on the vote and sat next to Inman in the House at that time.

Steve Marino

Marino did not respond to messages from the Advance seeking comment on Friday afternoon. Cooke told reporters he attempted to subpoena Marino to come and testify, but “didn’t have a lot of success,” and was unable to track him down. 

Both of the texts from Inman to Kirsch and Canada conclude with: “we never had this discussion.” Inman testified that was because he’d be in trouble with GOP leadership if it got out that he was relaying information about the vote to unions, which are typically aligned with Democrats.

The government’s charge of false statements to federal law enforcement stems from two interviews Inman had with the FBI last year ahead of being indicted. 

Inman told the court he believed he was simply being helpful in a broader investigation into the prevailing wage vote and that he did not believe he “was being singled out.” 

Attorney Chris Cooke and Rep. Larry Inman outside the courthouse, Dec. 6, 2019 | Nick Manes

The first interview was conducted at his home early in the morning and he said he had no recollection at that time of the text messages. He testified that he had likely taken between 25 and 30 prescription pain pills the day before. 

As part of its investigation, the government obtained Inman’s medical records, which he allowed prosecutors to do. Included in the records were notes from Inman’s long-time personal doctor who wrote that the lawmaker told him he was taking no more than eight-to-10 pills per day. 

Inman testified he had been “hoarding” pills and stored them in an orange Nike shoebox, which was admitted as evidence.

Asked by prosecutors about what he told his doctor compared with the number of pills he’s testified about, Inman said he had been “in denial” about his addiction.

The May indictment, he said, changed that. 

“It takes a major event to wake you up,” Inman said. “If Special Agent [Jeremy] Ashcroft didn’t knock on my door [for the August 2018 search warrant], I might not be alive today.”

Inman’s doctor may still be called to testify for the defense on Monday.

The third-term lawmaker has resisted calls for his resignation and despite being kicked out of the GOP caucus and having no admission to his office, Inman has been at several sessions since returning from drug rehab in September. 

He testified that he spends many of his days before session in the lobby of the downtown Lansing Radisson Hotel waiting for House session to begin. He said he frequently sleeps in a highway rest area north of Lansing rather than driving back and forth between the Capitol and his northern Michigan home. 

Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) leaving Lansing on the afternoon of May 16, 2019 | Nick Manes

Speaking with reporters following the testimony, Inman said he appreciated the opportunity to take the witness stand and testify in his own defense.

“I can just say that I am finally relieved that I had the ability to tell my side of the story after a long, lengthy battle with the indictments and the challenges I’ve had because of the indictments,” Inman said. “But today I felt was a good day for me. … I had the opportunity to tell my story, my detail.” 

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.