Inman found not guilty on lying to FBI, mistrial declared on bribery, extortion charges

By: - December 10, 2019 7:49 pm

Rep. Larry Inman after his trial, Dec. 10, 2019 | Nick Manes

After more than 12 hours of deliberations, a jury has declared state Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) not guilty of lying to the FBI. Meanwhile, a mistrial was declared on charges of attempted extortion and bribery. 

The prosecution has moved for a new trial date on those counts, but Inman’s defense attorney said he’s hopeful the government will reconsider doing so. 

Rep. Larry Inman after his trial, Dec. 10, 2019 | Nick Manes

“I would call on them to reconsider that position and not to put Representative Inman through any more pain,” defense attorney Chris Cooke told reporters Tuesday evening outside Grand Rapids federal courthouse where the trial was held.

“It’s been a nightmare for him for quite some time and he stood in there and told his story and the jury acquitted him as to … lying to the FBI,” Cooke said. 

At the heart of the case was last year’s vote to repeal prevailing wage and texts Inman sent union lobbyists seeking campaign contributions just days ahead of the vote.

The government made the general argument that those texts amounted to an “overt act” at attempting to extort and solicit a bribe, which led to an FBI investigation. The defense argued that the two text messages amount to a lack of overall evidence.

While leaving court, one juror told reporters that the deliberations were deadlocked 6-to-6 on the attempted bribery and extortion charges, but felt that Inman’s defense that he had no recollection of the texts at the heart of the government’s case was “sufficient.” 

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, jurors informed the court that they were seeking more clarification on the specific differences between the bribery and extortion charges. The court and parties, however, felt that it would be better to provide the jury with additional copies of the instructions, which task them with considering each count separate from the other. 

Chief Judge Robert Jonker, who has been on the bench since 2007, said this is only the second hung jury he’s seen and declared the deliberations the longest he could recall. 

He said that the declaration of a mistrial on the two counts is in no way a reflection on the jury — and instead served as a reflection of the reality that it’s difficult for 12 people to agree. He thanked the jurors for giving “it all they had” and declared that “the system worked.” 

Inman was indicted on the charges in May. The charges would have carried maximum prison penalties of 20 years, 10 years and five years, respectively, as well as $250,000 fines for each.

The government called a dozen witnesses over the span of the five-day trial, while the defense called seven of its own, including Inman, who chose to testify in his own defense. 

In the time between the indictment and the trial, which commenced last week, Inman was removed from the House GOP caucus, stripped of committee assignments and underwent treatment for an opioid addiction that he has used as a major part of his defense. 

A spokesman for House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), who testified in the trial, said the speaker had not yet seen the verdict on Tuesday night and declined to comment.

In his testimony, Inman said he didn’t recall even sending the text messages, and only saw them upon getting his phone back from the FBI as part of its 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.” 

Inman and several of his staffers testified to the lawmakers’ diminishing health, beginning around 2014 when he was first elected. Inman has undergone multiple surgeries since then. 

Text between Rep. Larry Inman and Carpenters’ lobbyist Lisa Canada, June 3, 2018

“People will not go down for $5,000, not that we dont [sic] appreciate it,” Inman allegedly said in one of the texts. “Please get with the all the trades by Monday, I would suggest maxing out on all 12, or at least doubling what you have given them on Tuesday.”

Cooke had long argued that the texts were far from containing a direct ask of money in exchange for a vote.

“If my client was an extortionist … wouldn’t there be more than that?” Cooke said in his closing argument on Monday. “It’s only two texts.”

There are still no shortage of loose threads with the Inman case, and that includes the unclear role of state Rep. Steve Marino (R-Harrison Twp.). Marino sat next to Inman on the House floor in 2018 and was allegedly keeping his own tally of the vote. 

Inman had long been considered a “no” or “undecided” on the prevailing wage and the defense felt that having Marino testify could help shed light on Inman’s ultimate decision to vote in favor of repeal. 

Steve Marino

Cooke had wanted investigator James Kelley to testify on Monday about his attempts to subpoena Marino, but that was blocked by Jonker who felt that could lead to prejudice for the jury without Marino himself testifying. 

Marino was not interviewed by the government and Kelley was never able to serve Marino a subpoena on behalf of the defense. 

The lawmaker was not inclined to talk about his role in the case when asked by the Advance on Tuesday.

“Is that really an honest question?… It’s an ongoing trial and I can’t comment on it,” Marino said before a committee hearing. “However, I think this is a very clever stint by the defense counsel. Part of me thinks that they never actually wanted to have this subpoena be served.”

In August, the state House overwhelmingly voted on a resolution urging Inman to resign his seat, something he has not done. There also was a recall campaign against him, but the state Board of Elections tossed petitions last month on a technicality.

Speaking with reporters on Tuesday following the verdict, Inman said he hoped he would be welcomed back for his final year of service before term limits force him out of the House.

“You know when I went back after that resolution, quite a number of representatives started to befriend me again and talk to me,” Inman said. “They understood my struggles with addiction. And so I’m hopefully looking forward to getting back in stream with my job and working with the other legislators and doing good for the residents of Grand Traverse County.”

But still, Inman said in his testimony that he’s likely done with politics once he’s done serving at the end of 2020 and will seek a different career. 

“I’ve probably had enough,” Inman said. 

Advance reporter Laina Stebbins contributed reporting.

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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.