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 lawmaker of doing just that, charging state Rep. Larry Inman (R-Traverse City) with attempted extortion, bribery and lying to an FBI agent. If convicted, he faces up to 35 years in prison.
The indictment, made public on Wednesday, set off bipartisan calls for Inman’s resignation — demands he has forcefully resisted — as well as a possible intraparty showdown in the Republican-controlled state legislature.
Inman is alleged to have solicited money via text messages from the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights, a union that previously contributed to Inman’s campaign, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Michigan.
Court records show the messages were sent in June, days before lawmakers considered the repeal of a 1965 law guaranteeing higher pay and better benefits for workers on state construction projects. Inman allegedly offered to vote “no” on the repeal effort for the right price.
“We will get a ton of pressure on this vote,” Inman is alleged to have said in a text message to a union representative that encouraged the union to increase its contributions. “Its not worth losing assignments and staff for $5,000. . . . My suggestion is you need to get people maxed out.”
The message referred to 12 legislators who would consider blocking the repeal in exchange for sizable campaign contributions.
“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,” he wrote, according to the indictment.
It is unclear whether union officials responded to the messages. Court records show they did not make additional campaign contributions after the texts were received. When asked about the exchanges by an FBI agent, Inman “denied having any such communications,” according to the indictment.
Inman voted in favor of the law’s repeal, which passed in the Michigan House of Representatives by three votes.
In a statement through his lawyer provided to The Washington Post, Inman maintained his innocence.
“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.”
House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) told reporters on Wednesday that he had asked Inman for his resignation and that the third-term lawmaker had been stripped of his committee assignments.
Chatfield said Inman told him that he would consider his request.
But Inman’s attorney, Christopher Cooke, told The Post that his client “is not even considering resignation,” and asked elected officials and the public to “reserve judgment with respect to Larry” until more facts come to light.
Chatfield’s spokesman said the speaker intends to “have a longer conversation” with Inman.
If Inman refuses to resign, lawmakers could begin proceedings to expel him, something that has happened only four times in the state’s history.
The union did not respond to requests for comment, but its executive secretary-treasurer, Mike Jackson, told the Detroit News that union members are “glad that Larry Inman is being brought to justice.”
In a statement, the leader of the Michigan Democratic Party, Lavora Barnes, said the charges against Inman were “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,” she said. “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 have called on Chatfield to open an investigation into the 12 lawmakers mentioned in the text messages.
“Will Chatfield investigate or lead a coverup?” Mark Brewer, former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, said in a tweet, referring to the 12 legislators with the hashtag #DirtyDozen.
In response to questions about the potential involvement of other legislators, Chatfield 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.”
The charges, he added, had no bearing on the results of the vote to overturn the wage law, which “stands on its merit.”
Following Wednesday’s indictment, the liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan called on Inman to step down.
“Today’s indictment is further proof that we need more transparency and lobby reform in Michigan,” Lonnie Scott, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.