By Paul Egan and Kathleen Gray
A state representative has been indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of trying to sell his vote on a measure to repeal Michigan's prevailing wage law.
Rep. Larry Inman, R-Traverse City, was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Grand Rapids, court records show.
House Speaker Lee Chatfield, R-Levering, called on Inman on Wednesday to resign his seat, though Inman said he has no intention of doing so.
Inman is charged with attempted extortion, soliciting a bribe, and making a false statement to the FBI and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on the most serious charge.
According to the indictment, Inman, who was first elected to the state House in 2014, sent text messages seeking contributions to his campaign committee from unions in connection with voting "no" on a measure to repeal Michigan's prevailing wage law.
The alleged pleas for campaign cash came in an election year that proved to be a close contest for Inman, who beat his Democratic opponent by less than 700 votes last November.
Inman, 65, a retired vice president of Huntington National Bank, did not attend the House session that began Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement issued through his attorney, Chris Cooke of Traverse City, Inman said he will not resign.
"I am innocent of these charges," Inman said. "I have never compromised the integrity of my vote. I have always represented my constituency honestly and legally. I intend on vigorously fighting these charges and defending my reputation."
Chatfield announced he stripped Inman of his committee assignments Wednesday and ordered the business office to take control of Inman's constituent services.
"Everyone in the House is surprised and disappointed by this news," Chatfield said.
He later told reporters he asked Inman to resign and the lawmaker is considering it.
"The text that was made public in the press is completely out of line and is not in the spirit of what the people of this state deserve in their representation and I think every single person in this chamber is aware of that," Chatfield said.
But Inman later told the Free Press, that while his conversation with Chatfield was confidential: "I am not resigning."
Inman is scheduled to be arraigned May 23 in federal court in Grand Rapids.
The prevailing wage law, which required union wage rates on most public projects, was repealed by Michigan lawmakers in 2018. Most Republicans, including Inman, voted to repeal the law, records show. The indictment alleges Inman sought campaign contributions in return for instead voting "no" on the repeal measure.
The indictment says Inman sent a June 3, 2018, text message to a representative of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights that said, in part:
"I hear the prevailing wage vote may be on Wednesday," and while "carpenters have been good to me, where are the rest of the trades on checks?"
Inman went on to say, "it's not worth losing assignments and staff for $5,000," and "you need to get people maxed out," according to the indictment. The message said: "People will not go down for $5,000, not that we don't appreciate it."
Inman said in the text message there were only 12 lawmakers who could block the measure, and "I would suggest maxing them out on all 12, or at least doubling what you have given them," according to the indictment. He added: "We never had this discussion."
"Maxing out" is an apparent reference to making the largest campaign donation allowable under state law.
According to the text messages quoted in the indictment, Inman was seeking $30,000 in campaign contributions for each unnamed Republican member he said might be willing to vote no. But he was apparently asking that multiple unions team up to put together those totals. The maximum a political action committee such as the one controlled by the carpenters could give to a state representative candidate in 2018 was $10,000, the Michigan Secretary of State's Office confirmed.
According to the indictment, Inman also sent a similar text message to an unidentified lobbyist who had been retained by the carpenters to help in blocking the repeal of the prevailing wage law.
And on June 5, he again texted the representative of the carpenters union, saying he had an upcoming breakfast event at a Lansing lobbyist's office. "Hope you can make it :) and see if there are checks you can get."
According to the indictment, a PAC controlled by the carpenters union donated $6,000 to Inman's campaign committee between October 2017 and May 2018.
However, the union "provided no additional campaign contributions to the defendant's campaign committee after receiving defendant's text message on June 3, 2018," the indictment says.
Mike Jackson, executive secretary-treasurer of the carpenters union, said he's glad that Inman "is being brought to justice."
"Our members deserve elected officials who vote on the merits of a bill and how it will affect us as taxpayers and hardworking people," Jackson said.
Chatfield said that he hasn't read the entire grand jury indictment yet. "I have no recollection of what he's representing in those statements," he said of the quoted text messages.
Inman denied having had communications about the campaign contributions when he was questioned by an FBI agent on Aug. 1, 2018, according to the indictment.
Lawmakers voted on prevailing wage after voters signed petitions to initiate legislation to repeal it. If lawmakers had not voted to approve the repeal measure, it would have become a ballot question for Michigan voters.
It was repealed in 2018 on a mostly party-line vote. In the House, where the bill passed on a 56-53 vote -- the minimum number of votes needed -- Inman was not one of the seven Republicans who sided with all the Democrats to oppose the repeal.
Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal group Progress Michigan, called for Inman to resign immediately, or for Chatfield to take steps to expel him.
Also, "today's indictment is further proof that we need more transparency and lobby reform in Michigan," Scott said in a news release.
"We ... need to take a comprehensive look at restructuring our worst in the nation lobbying laws because right now, too many elected officials are more concerned about the next donation they're going to get, rather than what's best for their constituents.
Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said the charges are "incredibly disappointing and concerning," and "if true, show a deeply troubling pattern of Republican disdain for the working people of our state."
Cooke, Inman's attorney, said that "at no time did Larry have any intention of violating the law and that will be established as we go through court proceedings."
Attempted extortion carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Soliciting a bribe is a 10-year felony, and making a false statement to the FBI is a five-year felony.
In addition to his job in the House, Inman was a banker and is an avid collector of memorabilia connected to pioneering aviator Amelia Earhart, who disappeared over the South Pacific in 1937 during an attempted round-the-world flight.
He told the Free Press earlier he has spent at least $1.5 million on Earhart memorabilia and artifacts and has filled his home on Grand Traverse Bay with her words, images and historical documents that tell the story of Amelia Earhart. He has even traveled to remote islands in the South Pacific to try and unravel the mystery of Earhart's disappearance.
Before his election to the state House, Inman was a longtime member of the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners.
And from 1994 to 2014, he served as a member of the State of Michigan Community Corrections Board, as an appointee of both Republican and Democratic governors, according to his state House biography.
Last fall during the campaign for his third and final term in the House, he said he thought that by 2020, his Grand Traverse County district would turn blue and send a Democrat to Lansing. And the prediction nearly came true in 2018. He barely won his re-election bid, beating Democrat Dan O'Neil by a 24,071 to 23,722 margin.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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