The text message, which allegedly offered up a lawmaker’s vote in exchange for cash, ended with a famous five-word phrase: “We never had this discussion.”
But a federal grand jury has accused a Michigan Republican of doing just that, charging state Rep. Larry Inman with attempted extortion, bribery and lying to an FBI agent. He could face a total of 35 years in prison.
The indictment, made public on Wednesday, set off bipartisan calls for Inman’s resignation — requests he has so far forcefully resisted, claiming his innocence and setting up a potential intraparty showdown in the GOP-controlled Midwestern state legislature.
Inman purportedly used text messages to solicit money from the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, a union that had previously contributed to Inman’s campaign, said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan.
He sent the messages in June, court records show, just days before lawmakers considered the repeal of a 1965 law that guaranteed higher pay and better benefits for workers on state construction projects. He allegedly offered to vote “no” on the repeal effort, which was spearheaded by his own party — but said he’d only do so for the right price.
“We will get a ton of pressure on this vote,” Inman is said to have told a union representative, encouraging them to up their contributions. “Its not worth losing assignments and staff for $5,000 … My suggestion is you need to get people maxed out.”
The Northern Michigan lawmaker referred to a group of 12 legislators who might also consider blocking the repeal, should their campaign war chests suddenly see an infusion of labor money. But just $5,000, he stressed, was not going to cut it.
“I am not sure you can hold 12 people for the only help of $5,000. … People will not go down for $5,000, not that we dont appreciate it,” the message read.
It’s unclear whether union officials responded to Inman’s messages, but court records say they did not make any additional campaign contributions after receiving his texts. When an FBI agent asked Inman about these exchanges, he allegedly denied they occurred.
In the end, Inman voted in favor of the law’s repeal, which passed the House by just three votes.
In a statement through his lawyer, provided to The Washington Post, Inman said he’s “innocent of these charges.”
“I have never compromised the integrity of my vote on any issue,” he said. “I have always represented my constituency honestly and legally. I intend on vigorously defending myself against these charges and my reputation.”
Chamber speaker and fellow Republican Lee Chatfield told reporters on Wednesday that he asked Inman for his resignation shortly after the charges were announced, adding that the third-term legislator had already been stripped of his committee assignments. Chatfield said Inman told him he would take it “under consideration.”
But Inman’s attorney, Christopher Cooke, told The Post that his client “is not even considering resignation.” He asked elected officials and the public to “reserve judgment with respect to Larry” until more facts from the case come to light.
Chatfield’s spokesman said the speaker intends to “have a longer conversation” with Inman. If Inman refuses to resign, his peers could begin proceedings to expel him, something that has happened only four times in the state’s history.
The carpenters union did not respond to The Post’s request for comment, but its executive secretary-treasurer, Mike Jackson, told the Detroit News that his members are “glad that Larry Inman is being brought to justice.”
The chair of the state Democratic Party said in a statement that the charges are “incredibly disappointing and concerning.”
“Not only is Inman accused of violating the trust of his constituents, the oath of his office, and the law, but his actions, if true, show a deeply troubling pattern of Republican disdain for the working people of our state,” said Lavorna Barnes. “The citizens of Michigan deserve representatives that put the people of our state first and do not abuse the trust of the public or the power of their position.”
Some state Democrats encouraged Chatfield to begin an investigation into the rest of the 12 lawmakers Inman referred to in his text messages.
“Will Chatfield investigate or lead a coverup?” asked the prominent Michigan Democrat Mark Brewer, in a tweet that referenced the “other #DirtyDozen.”
Chatfield, in a response to questions about the potential involvement of other legislators, said Inman’s conduct was “completely out of line and is not in the spirit of what the people of this state deserve in representation, and I think every single person in this chamber is aware of that.”
He also said the charges had no bearing on the results of the vote to overturn the wage law, which, he said, “stands on its merit.”
Others have seized on the alleged crimes as more examples of the sort of conduct that is allowed to flourish in a state with restrictive public records laws and lenient lobbying rules.
“Today’s indictment is further proof that we need more transparency and lobby reform in Michigan,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of the liberal group Progress Michigan, in a statement.
Other potential examples are not difficult to find. Susan J. Demas, editor of the nonprofit news site Michigan Advance, compiled a list of other scandal-plagued lawmakers. In the last five years alone, four have resigned under pressure and one was expelled.