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Stripped of power and facing corruption charges, Representative Larry Inman is 'not going anywhere'

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions of people across the state are working remotely from home — or not at all. But on April 7 the State House of Representatives will go back to work in Lansing.

That includes Larry Inman (R-Williamsburg) who represents northern Michigan’s 104th District. 

He faces two federal corruption charges after beating a third last year, and he’s been stripped of nearly all his political power.

But he keeps showing up to work.

Credit Connor Desilets / Interlochen Public Radio
Interlochen Public Radio
State Rep. Larry Inman has been locked out of his office for months since being indicted.

Larry Inman says he can still do his job, but on this afternoon in mid-February he is locked out of his office.

He knows it won’t work, but he’s swiping his key card to try and get in.

He pulls on the door. It won't budge.

Credit Connor Desilets / Interlochen Public Radio
Interlochen Public Radio
Weeks worth of mail has built up under the door to Inman's office. He asks the building's security staff to collect it for him.

"It was always active and always busy," Inman says while looking at the door to his office. "Those things are missing now. All that activity (and) normalcy of what a state representative does."  

Inman hasn’t been in his office for months and would like to collect the mail that is packed under his door.

Lansing is full of energy when the legislature is in session. Politicians, staffers and reporters dart across the capitol to hold meetings and go over bills.

But Inman’s days are slow.

He can’t have meetings in his office. His staff doesn’t work for him anymore. He can’t caucus with other lawmakers. He can introduce bills and vote on other ones but that’s about it.

"I’m able to represent the citizens of the 104th, I just can’t represent them to the degree that I had previous to these charges coming out," Inman says.

Facing up to 30 years in prison

Around this time last year Representative Inman was fresh off a close re-election win for a third term.

Then he was indicted on three federal corruption charges. Speaker of the State House Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) quickly revoked Inman’s office access, kicked him off his committee and publicly asked him to resign.

"The conduct and text messages sent by Representative Larry Inman are completely out of line and are completely against the spirit of this entire institution," Chatfield told reporters last May when the indictment was announced. "Because of that I have asked him to resign in his official capacity as state representative."

Inman says he is innocent of all charges and won’t step down.

"I’m going to stand up for what I think is right and that is I did not do anything wrong," the lawmaker said.

"The only way I can prove that to people is to say: 'I’m not going anywhere.'"

An awkward workplace

On session day Inman leaves his office and heads downstairs. A lobbyist who testified against him in court walks by. He sees Inman and leaves the building.

Inman’s days in Lansing are full of awkward run-ins like this.

State House Majority Floor Leader Triston Cole (R-Mancelona) was one of many lawmakers that asked Inman to resign last year. Cole admits it is strange working with him.

"It’s a little bit awkward because there are still outstanding indictments," Cole said. "Everything you may do or say with someone that’s under indictment may be under future scrutiny, and so it is a little awkward."

Michigan Public Radio Network Correspondent Rick Pluta has covered the capitol for three decades. He talks to lawmakers almost every day, but says no one wants to talk about Inman.

Pluta says the charges against him were an indictment of the fundraising and lobbying culture in Lansing

"Larry Inman had become a problem and this problem needed to go away," Pluta said.

"He was absolutely viewed as toxic. No question."

A day in Lansing

Before the house session starts Inman enters the capitol building and greets various people like the Sergeant at Arms. He says after returning to the Capitol, getting comfortable enough to exchange small pleasantries with colleagues took a while.

"I guess don't blame them," Inman said. "Their expectations were unknown, am I really okay? How's this trial gonna go?"

As the session starts Inman waits alone at his desk. Other house Republicans head into their chambers to caucus. His colleagues go over bills in-person. Inman pulls them up on his phone.

Credit Connor Desilets / Interlochen Public Radio
Interlochen Public Radio
Inman scans bills on his phone during house sessions.

"You’re walking in blind. You got a sheet of paper with a list of bills, and it’s my responsibility — and before it was my staff's — to help me get all the information on the bills," Inman said. "Now I’ve gotta do it through my phone, by looking up the bill numbers and determine whether I like the bill or not."

Other representatives, including two that testified against Inman in court, enter the chamber as the session starts. They mingle and get ready. Inman greets his seat mates, but no one stops to talk to him.

Several bills are introduced and read through. One increases penalties for manufacturing or installing counterfeit airbags. When it goes to a vote a week later, Inman will vote "yes" and the legislation goes to the state senate.

Credit Connor Desilets / Interlochen Public Radio
Interlochen Public Radio
Inman is marked "present" during House roll call.

Inman can still introduce bills but he hasn’t. He says that’s unrealistic without staff to help him and even if he did, other lawmakers wouldn’t support it.

"I don’t think they’re poised to allow me to have a public act while I’m under indictment," Inman said.

After the session ends, lawmakers split up. Some head back to their offices for meetings or go to committee hearings.

But Inman’s day is done. That night he stays with a friend to avoid hotel expenses.

Divided district

Inman is still in office much to the chagrin of some people in his district like Sondra Hardy. She was the first woman ever elected to the Grand Traverse County Commission and met Inman over 20 years ago. 

"He didn’t seem terribly interested in anything that had happened prior to his arrival on the scene," Hardy recalls.

Hardy was one of the leaders of an unsuccessful effort to remove Inman from office. The group got over 13,000 signatures on their petition but it failed because some were found to be invalid.

Hardy says they weren’t hung up on the charges or Inman’s drug use. He missed more than 130 votes in the house last year while dealing with his court case and drug problem.

That’s why Hardy wants him gone.

"I don’t know the law about this, I’m just thinking that most people can’t miss three months of work without getting fired," Hardy says.

Inman says he missed work for valid medical and legal reasons and the recall effort was politically motivated. But Hardy, a registered Republican, says that’s not true. She says if Inman won’t resign the legislature should kick him out.

But she does sympathize with the situation he’s in.

"I can only imagine how awful that would be, is to be scorned by your party yet sitting in their midst," Hardy said.

Possible retrial

After a hung jury and partial acquittal last time around, prosecutors want to take Inman to trial again with new evidence. 

"The government is entitled to a retrial to ensure that a new jury is provided the opportunity to consider this new evidence ... and determine whether (Inman's) testimony as to any matter should be believed," prosecutors said in a brief.

Inman's attorney Chris Cooke says because his client was found "not guilty" of one charge, lying to the FBI, he should be acquitted of all of them.

"He was accused of making a false statement to the FBI that he was seeking additional campaign funds in exchange for his vote, well what are counts one and two? That he sought additional campaign funds in exchange for his vote," Cooke said.

"If he's not lying about saying 'I didn't do that,' doesn't that impact counts one and counts two as well?" Cooke said.

The judge is expected to determine if a retrial is necessary this Spring.

Meanwhile, Inman says he will keep showing up to work.

Credit Max Johnston / Interlochen Public Radio
Interlochen Public Radio
Inman and his attorney Chris Cooke greet reporters during his criminal trial.

'I'm still here'

Speaker Lee Chatfield declined to comment for this story, citing the pending indictment and possibility he will have to testify in court again. Chatfield's Communications Director Gideon D'Assandro says the house has no plans to restore Inman's privileges.

"He's still under indictment on two separate felonies, and he's admitted to the text messages that were unethical," D'Assandro said. "At this point nothing is going to change."

Credit Conner Desilets
Interlochen Public Radio
Rep. Inman at the House Office Building in Lansing.

On house session days, Capitol Reporter Rick Pluta has a routine. He strolls to the house floor and preps his recording equipment, often walking by Larry Inman as he’s working at his desk.

"Every day when I walk in and move over to the press area, (Inman's) there," Pluta says.

"He gives a smile, a thumbs up, and goes 'I’m still here.'"

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.