Three Charged With Bribery in Alabama Over Diabetes Care

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) – A federal indictment unsealed Monday claims the founder of Trina Health bribed a former Republican Alabama lawmaker in an effort to force the state’s largest insurer to cover the specialized diabetes treatment his clinics provided.

The indictment against G. Ford Gilbert, a California businessman, was filed March 14 in Montgomery federal court but was unsealed on Monday.

It also accuses Alabama State Representative Jack Williams and Martin Connors, a lobbyist who formerly headed the state’s Republican Party, of taking part in the scheme. All three were arrested on Monday.

Prosecutors say the trio committed conspiracy to commit bribery related to federal programs and honest services wire fraud. In addition to those counts, Gilbert alone also faces charges of wire fraud, health care fraud and interstate travel in aid of racketeering.

The charges come two years after three ethical and corruption scandals stormed through the highest levels of Alabama’s government. The year 2016 saw the resignation of former Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, the removal of its Chief Justice Roy Moore and the automatic removal of Republican state lawmaker Micky Hammon after his conviction on corruption charges.

According to the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, Alabama has developed a reputation over the years for being one of the most corrupt states in the union.

Because Hammon was convicted in a separate case, he is not charged in the new filing, the indictment states.

Around 2014, California-based Trina Health began working on expanding into Alabama.

It was around this time that Hammon received an ownership interest in Trina Health as a free gift, according to the indictment.

Founded by Gilbert – who never completed medical school, the indictment states– Trina Health provided its diabetic patents with a form of outpatient IV insulin therapy called artificial pancreas therapy.

By 2015, Trina had opened facilities in Mississippi, Arizona, Nevada and even India.

According to the indictment, the company recommended patents visit once a week and sit in one of its chairs for three hours to receive a series of insulin injections.

Alabama has the second highest rate of diabetes in the nation, according to the State of Obesity, which is sponsored in part by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Almost 15 percent of the state’s population suffers from the disease.

But IV insulin therapy has faced criticism. In 2009, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services denied coverage of the procedure, saying there was little evidence it helped patents. Blue Cross Blue Shield, which according to the indictment provides health care benefits to 90 percent of the market in Alabama, also decided not to cover the treatment.

Trina-affiliated clinics in Alabama submitted claims to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama, but the company refused to reimburse the cost of artificial pancreas treatments.

“The clinic immediately found itself in dire financial straits,” the indictment states.

In response, Gilbert started BlueGate Coalition, which described itself as fighting insurance abuses. The indictment claims Gilbert also wrote a bill that would require companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama to cover IV insulin injection therapy. He allegedly hired Connors to lobby for the bill with state lawmakers.

Hammon declined to sponsor the bill, but recommended that his friend in the legislature, Williams, take charge of the measure. Williams served as chair of the Alabama House’ Commerce and Small Business Committee.

According to the indictment, both Connors and Williams knew about the payments to Hammon.

Before a scheduled hearing, the trio allegedly met at the Alabama Capitol to talk strategy.

“Williams speculated that the hearing could be used as a tool to force [Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama] to negotiate with Trina Health and its licensees,” the indictment states. “Williams sought a resolution in part because such a resolution would result in the payment of money to [Hammon] in the form of royalties and other payments.”

The bill, however, failed to advance and died in committee during the 2016 session. Still, according to the indictment, Gilbert hoped that the proposed legislation would help him negotiate with Blue Cross Blue Shield.

All three of the Trina Health-affiliated clinics that operated in Alabama have since closed.

If convicted, the trio could face up to 20 years in prison each.

Williams said in a statement that he did nothing wrong and expects to be found not guilty by a jury.

“I trust our judicial system and our electoral system; they have both protected individual rights  for hundreds of years,” he said. “I have served honorably in the legislature for over a decade and will continue to do so until my term expires.”

Representatives for Connors and Trina Health did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

According to Trina’s website, Gilbert developed the artificial pancreas treatment after his daughter developed Type I diabetes when she was 2.

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