The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 31, 2019

GOP lawmaker indicted for alleged bribe over prevailing wage vote in 2018

By The Building Tradesman

A federal indictment was handed down May 15 charging that State Rep. Larry Inman (R-Williamburg) attempted to extort and bribe the Michigan Regional Carpenters Council and Millwrights (MRCCM) into giving him more money to assure his "no" vote last year on a prevailing wage citizens initiative. He's also accused of making a false statement to the FBI.

The indictment from a grand jury seated in the U.S. District Court's Western Division could lead to up to 20 years in prison for the Grand Traverse County lawmaker, who proclaimed his innocence. The same day Inman was asked to resign his seat by state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering).

"Specifically," said U.S. Attorney Andrew Birge in the indictment, Inman "unlawfully solicited from the MRCCM a political campaign contribution of money in exchange for the official act of voting 'No' on the 2018 legislative initiative petition to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law in the Michigan House of Representatives."

Further, Birge wrote: "Inman ultimately voted 'yes' on June 6, 2018 to repeal the law, and the Michigan House repealed the law by a vote of 56-53. (The state Senate approved it 23-14). The indictment includes the text messages allegedly from Inman to union representatives in the days before the vote, one of which Inman concludes by stating 'we never had this conversation.'"

At the center of the case is last year's repeal of the Michigan Prevailing Wage Act. A citizen's petition backed by the anti-union Associated Contractors and Builders of Michigan successfully garnered enough signatures to place the question of repealing the act before the Michigan Legislature. The vote took place and was successful despite intense lobbying not to repeal from both labor unions and their contractors.

Prevailing wage laws assure that wages that "prevail" in a given geographic area are paid to construction workers on projects that involve tax dollars. Such laws assure that local wage rates are not undermined by contractors who win bids by hiring lower-paid, local or out-of-area workers. 

Proponents of prevailing wage repeal say that the law inflates costs to government and reduces competition among contractors. Real-world evidence begs to differ: numerous academic studies have found that repealing prevailing wage does not lower the cost of public construction, but does lower worker wages.

Court documents show that on June 3, Inman sent separate text messages to an MRCCM representative and a union lobbyist, pointing out that they "only have 12 people to block it." Presumably those 12 were state lawmakers. Further, he wrote: "You said all 12 will get $30,000 each to help there (sic) campaigns. That did not happen . . I have heard most got $5,000, not $30,000 . . . I am not sure you can hold 12 people for the only help of $5,000."

Inman further wrote: 

"Its (sic) not worth losing assignments and staff for $5,000, in the end. They will give you the check back."

"People will not go down for $5,000, not that we dont (sic) appreciate it. Please get with all the trades by Monday. I would suggest maxing out on all 12, or at least doubling what you have given them on Tuesday, asap, we never had this discussion, Larry."

The indictment said that the MRCCM's political action committee donated $6,000 to Inman's campaign committee between October 2017 and May 2018, but didn't make additional donations after his June 3 text message.

The indictment also said that "when a special agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation asked the Defendant if he had communicated with Person A or the MRCCM for the purpose of soliciting campaign contributions before casting his vote on the June 2018 legislative initiative petition to repeal Michigan’s prevailing wage law in the Michigan House of Representatives, the Defendant denied having any such communications and specifically denied soliciting $30,000 from Person A."

A May 15 statement released by Inman said: "I am innocent of these charges. I have never compromised the integrity of my vote. I have always represented my constituency honestly and legally. I intend on vigorously fighting these charges and defending my reputation." The next day he told a radio show that he would not step down from his state representative seat, and that the charges were "crap."

MRCCM executive secretary-treasurer Mike Jackson issued the following statement: "Our members deserve elected officials who vote on the merits of a bill, and how it will affect us as taxpayers and hardworking people. We’re glad that Larry Inman is being brought to justice."