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Inman's texts, relationship with lobbyists parsed at trial — Chatfield to take stand Thursday

Max Johnston
Interlochen Public Radio
Chris Cooke, left, leaves federal court with his client Larry Inman.

The second day of state Rep. Larry Inman's trial started early Wednesday morning, and Inman appeared calmer than the first day, taking time to chat with reporters, security gaurds and court staff.

Five people took the stand, giving the prosecution and defense plenty of opportunities to ask questions throught the day.

Cross-examining Lisa Canada

Inman, a Williamsburg Republican, is on federal trial this week facing charges of soliticing a bribe, exortion and lying to the F.B.I. The allegations center on Inman allegedly trying to sell his vote on Michigan's prevailing wage law to the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights (MRCCM).

Wednesday's hearing featured the prosecution calling several lobbyists to the stand to testify on their relationship with the lawmaker. The day started with Inman's defense cross-examining Lisa Canada, the Legislative Director for the MRCCM. On Tuesday, Canada said the MRCCM's political action committee began writing checks to Inman's re-election campaign in 2017, before he got more desperate for cash. 

The prosecution alleges that Inman tried to solicit a bribe from the MRCCM when he texted Canada in the summer of 2018.

“We all need some more help! Carpenters have been good to me, where are the rest of the trades on checks? We only have 12 people to block it. [Person A] said all 12 will get $30,000 each to help their campaigns,” Inman texted, according to the U.S. Department of Justice indictment.

Cooke spent a chunk of his cross-examination questioning the prosecution, and Canada's, interpretation of that text message. 

"Do you think he was offering advice?" Cooke asked.

"No, I thought he was asking for money," Canada responded. 

Cooke said that besides that text message, which he disputes the context, Inman never clearly asked for a bribe.

Cooke also asked Canada about the MRCCM's support for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the effort to remove Inman from office, insinuating the organization has political motives against Inman. 

Lobbyists called to the stand

Jim Kirsch and Noah Smith, two lobbyists in Lansing who were contracted by the MRCCM, were also called to the stand by the prosecution.

Credit Kelley Hawthorne
Jim Kirsch

Kirsch, with the lobbying firm Kelley Hawthorne, was assigned by the MRCCM to get support for the prevailing wage law in the Michigan legislature. He had worked in Lansing since 1999 and already knew Inman prior to the vote.

"It was my understanding he was favorable to keeping prevailing wage," Kirsch testified.

Shortly before the vote on prevailing wage, Kirsch said he texted Inman.

"I am hearing prevailing wage vote on Wednesday. Thanks for your continued support on keeping PW. We will need you this weekend (week)," Kirsch texted Inman.

Inman responded with almost the exact same text he sent to Canada.

"People will not [support prevailing wage] for $5,000," Inman texted Kirsch according to evidence shown in court. "I would suggest doubling what you have given on Tuesday ... we never had this discussion." 

Kirsch did not reply to the text. Inman sent a similar message to at least two other people that wanted Inman to vote in favor of the prevailing wage law, evidence in court shows.

"On its face it's innapropriate," Kirsch said in testimony. 

In his cross-exam, Inman's attorney Cooke pointed out that no one bothered to call Inman to see what he meant by those text messages. He also said in a statement to the F.B.I., Kirsch seemed to downplay the messages significance. 

"That's Larry being Larry," Kirsch said according to the statement.

Several times throughout Wednesday's testimony, Cooke asked witnesses if they ever heard Inman specifically ask for money in exchange for his vote.

"Those exact words aren't in this text," Kirsch said.

Credit Capitol Services
Noah Smith

Noah Smith from lobbying firm Capitol Services also took the stand. He was also hired by MRCCM to drum up support for prevailing wage. 

Smith testified that in a meeting in March 2018, Inman specifically said he wanted more money from the union for supporting prevailing wage, despite no commitment from them.

"He made some mention of 'the trades talked about giving me $30,000 in support of my election, where's the rest of my money?'" Smith recalls Inman saying.

The prosecution entered an email summarizing that meeting as evidence, which suprised Cooke. He claims to have never seen this email prior to the trial, while prosecutors say they provided it to him over the summer.

“They say they did, we’ll check on that tonight to see if it was provided to us, but that’s the first time I saw it,” Cooke said.

Cooke raised several items of his diminished capacity defense throughout today's testimony, raising the question of whether Inman was under the influence of opioids and in the state of mind to even solicit a bribe. At one point he referenced Smith's statement to the F.B.I. in which he called Inman a "buffoon" and "scatterbrained."

David Fashbaugh with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also spoke to Inman about the prevailing wage law. In his testimony, he said he texted Inman about the law several times before the vote.

"I was wondering if there was any information I could get for you about the prevailing wage issue?" one text from Fashbaugh read.

"I am going to need (a lot) of help and a ton of campaign money," Inman replied, before sending the same text he sent to others asking for $30,000 dollars.

The day ended with testimony from an F.B.I. data extraction expert. Speaker of the Michigan House of Representatives Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) will take the stand Thursday.

Max came to IPR in 2017 as an environmental intern. In 2018, he returned to the station as a reporter and quickly took on leadership roles as Interim News Director and eventually Assignment Editor. Before joining IPR, Max worked as a news director and reporter at Michigan State University's student radio station WDBM. In 2018, he reported on a Title IX dispute with MSU in his story "Prompt, Thorough and Impartial." His work has also been heard on Michigan Radio, WDBM and WKAR in East Lansing and NPR.