— House Representative Larry Inman was indicted in federal court this week on three charges: attempted extortion, bribery and lying to an FBI agent.
— The indictment leaves us with more questions than answers in what we hope is the start of a deeper Legislative investigation.
Public trust is a cherished and fragile thing. Without it, our government would come to a standstill. We must trust that those we elect to represent us carry through on their promise to do the job with integrity and honesty.
That 104th District Representative Larry Inman was indicted is week on charges of attempted extortion, bribery and lying to an FBI agent socked that trust in the ribs, leaving us reeling like everyone else.
We’re a naturally critical breed, not prone to unconditional trust. We question; we verify; we press. We’re particularly watchful of our public servants who make the rules and collect taxes.
But we also don’t jump to conclusions, especially when in comes to criminal proceedings where we operate on the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
The burden of proof in a grand jury trail is lighter — proof of probable cause. In criminal proceedings, the prosecutor has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
This doesn’t detract from the seriousness of the charges against Inman, our representative since 2014 and a long-familiar face in Traverse City politics.
The first charge — attempted extortion — carries a possible 20 years in prison. The second charge — bribery — carried a possible 10-year sentence. The third, the lying, could be 5 additional years.
Inman stands accused of sending several incriminating texts June 3-5 to a union rep from the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights and the group’s lobbyist. The texts — casual, complete with smiley faces — revolve around a then-upcoming vote on the repeal of the prevailing wage law. The law, originally enacted in 1965, allowed the Wage and Hour Division to establish wage and fringe benefit rates for construction workers on state projects. Construction groups wanted the law preserved, and the union’s PAC made a $6,000 political contribution to Inman before the vote.
The first text to the union rep asks “where are the rest of the trades on checks?” and alludes to an agreement of 12 legislators to get $30,000 each. The text goes on reference the close vote, the pressure and the tea party influence, and suggests “at least doubling” what had been given before the vote.
“People will not go down for $5,000 in the end,” it said.
Roughly, the same text goes to the lobbyist the next day. Then there are two follow up texts to the union rep — the last soliciting a meeting at a breakfast event with a “hope you can make it :) and see if there are any checks you can get, thanks!”
The repeal won by a close vote: 56 to 53, with Inman voting to repeal.
The exchange leaves us with many questions including, who is the 12-person voting block, and are more indictments on the way? Was this the first time a solicitation has been made?
Inman has voted opposite his party before, and often pressed for action on local issues.
We remember a last-minute intercession during the lame-duck $1.3 billion supplemental spending plan when he asked for — and got — a $700,000 Michigan Enhancement Grant for TCAPS during their MDE appeal that they didn’t end up needing.
In context, Inman’s race for his final term was close — so close that it was hard to call on election night until the absentee votes were counted and Inman had edged out Democratic challenger Dan O’Neil just 19,709 to 19,070 votes.
Inman has already been removed from his committee assignments. That’s a good first start.
That’s what an indictment is — a start that signals the beginning of a long look at our political machine — and the people and organizations pressing the buttons.