Lawmaker charged with seeking bribe from union

By Ed White and David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — A Michigan lawmaker has been charged with seeking a bribe from a labor union in exchange for favorable votes on a wage issue after investigators obtained text messages that said campaign cash would be needed to overcome pressure from Republican leaders.

Republican Rep. Larry Inman was indicted Tuesday on charges of attempted extortion, soliciting a bribe and lying to the FBI. The retired banker is serving his third term in the House after decades as a local elected official in the Traverse City area.

Outside politics, his interests include the life and disappearance of aviator Amelia Earhart.

The indictment by a federal grand jury reveals text messages sent last year by Inman to two people affiliated with the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, a group that had supported him.

He urged them to round up campaign contributions from other unions to win the votes of lawmakers who were under pressure from Republican leaders to repeal a wage law.

“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,” Inman wrote, according to the indictment.

In both messages, he said: “We never had this discussion.”

Prosecutors said the union didn’t respond to Inman as requested. Inman subsequently voted with the majority to repeal a decades-old law that guaranteed higher wages for workers on government construction projects. The repeal passed the House by only three votes.

“I am innocent of these charges,” Inman said in a written statement. “I have never compromised the integrity of my vote on any issue. I have always represented my constituency honestly and legally. I intend on vigorously defending these charges and my reputation.”

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 hard-working people,” Jackson said.

Inman last fall defeated a Democratic challenger by less than 1 percentage point, or 349 votes out of 40,127 cast. In response to the charges, House Speaker Lee Chatfield removed him from committees and put the House Business Office in charge of his office.

“Everyone in the House is surprised and disappointed by this news,” said Chatfield, another Republican lawmaker from northern Michigan.

A liberal group, Progress Michigan, called on leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature to find out the identities of other lawmakers. Inman’s text messages referred to 12 people.

“It’s important to know the full scope of this scandal,” director Lonnie Scott said.

Separately, Inman’s website said he’s been preparing for a national traveling exhibit about Earhart's life and disappearance in the South Pacific in 1937. Inman told the Detroit Free Press in 2015 that he had spent more than $1 million on Earhart artifacts.

“I feel I’m as close to Amelia Earhart as anybody, even distant relatives,” he told the newspaper. “She has embedded in my heart and soul and spirit. I know her inside and out.”