TRAVERSE CITY — Larry Inman likely will not face a jury of his peers for a second time.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jonker ruled Monday that Inman, the now-former state representative from northern Michigan’s 104th District, will not be retried on two of the three federal corruption charges — attempted extortion and bribery — brought against him in May 2019. A jury acquitted Inman of the third charge, lying to an FBI agent, after his December 2019 trial.
The federal indictment accused Inman of offering his vote for sale in a 2018 attempt to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law. He was accused of sending text messages to members of the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights on June 3, 2018, seeking a $30,000 campaign contribution exchange for his “no” vote on the effort to repeal the state law, which sets wage and benefit rates paid to construction workers on state projects.
Jonker, who oversaw the proceedings, declared a mistrial on the extortion and bribery counts after the jury could not reach a verdict. He previously said the court had “serious questions about whether the evidence in this case is sufficient to sustain a conviction on” the remaining felony charges.
A retrial is often possible in the wake of a hung jury mistrial, Jonker said, but such a request in this instance is “inappropriate.” The acquittal on the third lying to the FBI was the “key issue of whether he truthfully denied trying to sell his vote.”
“Mr. Inman was more blatant and less subtle than other more polished legislators and lobbyists,” Jonker wrote. “But there was no evidence of under-the-table payments or solicitations.”
Inman only pursued payment of reportable campaign contributions often made on issues such as prevailing wage, Jonker said. A retrial would risk “legitimate First Amendment solicitation of campaign contributions” and could jeopardize the federal government’s future ability to pursue criminal charges regarding state legislative and political activities, Jonker wrote.
Inman said Jonker confirmed the value of the jury system.
“It’s been a really long haul for me, but I was willing to hang with Judge Jonker for as long as he took,” he said. “Today is a happy day. It’s a new beginning.”
Inman’s attorney, Christoper Cooke, called the ruling a “complete vindication” of his client and friend.
“This is the right result. This is what should have happened,” Cooke said.
Cooke called Inman with the news shortly after 5 p.m. Monday and said Inman was “ecstatic.”
“This has been a difficult ordeal for him,” he said. “It was a huge relief talking to him last night.”
Cooke submitted the motion for dismissal in July 2020 — nearly eight months after the trial’s end — arguing U.S. Assistant District Attorneys Christopher O’Connor and Ronald Stella provided insufficient evidence at the trial and that its case would “not get any stronger” upon retrial. He also argued a retrial violated the Inman’s First Amendment rights and the double jeopardy statute. The acquittal of lying to an FBI agent exonerates Inman of the extortion and bribery charges, Cooke said.
O’Connor argued the government was entitled to a retrial because Cooke did not move for acquittal within 14 days of the jury being relieved. Cooke also failed to meet the “very high burden” that a rational jury could acquit Inman beyond a reasonable doubt, O’Connor wrote in his August 2020 brief.
O’Connor also said said allowing Jonker to make such a decision made Jonker the “judge, jury and executioner of federal criminal charges.” That could harm any potential review by an appeals court, O’Connor said.
U.S. District Attorney the Western District of Michigan Andrew Birge released a state Tuesday expressing disappointment in Jonker’s decision.
“We ... disagree with it for all of the reasons we expressed in our briefing and argument to the court,” Birge wrote. “It is a crime for a public official to solicit or demand something of value, even campaign contributions, in exchange for an official act.”
Birge said his office is “carefully reviewing” the decision to determine their options.
The federal government must submit an appeal within 30 days. Both Cooke and Inman said such an appeal is unlikely.
“We’re hoping it’s all over,” Inman said.