California CEO pleads guilty in Alabama legislative bribery scheme

G. Ford Gilbert
G. Ford Gilbert [Photo via Vimeo]

G. Ford Gilbert, the CEO of Trina Health clinics, a California-based health care company, pleaded guilty in a Montgomery federal court on Friday to attempting to bribe an Alabama lawmaker.

On Friday, in a Montgomery federal court Gilbert pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to bribe a public official. The government dropped the other six counts against him.

According to court documents, when he committed his offense, Gilbert was the owner of a California-based company, Trina Health, LLC (Trina Health).  At outpatient clinics, Trina Health provided a form of diabetes treatment known as the “Artificial Pancreas Treatment.”  In 2014 and 2015, Trina Health and associated business entities opened three clinics in Alabama—one in Foley, one in Fairhope, and one in Hoover.  Micky Hammon, who, at the time, was the majority leader of the Alabama House of Representatives, was a part-owner of the Hoover clinic. 

Shortly after the Foley and Fairhope clinics opened and just before the Hoover clinic began operations, the state’s largest health insurer,  Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, informed Trina Health that it would not cover the treatments provided at these clinics.  Throughout 2015 Gilbert tried unsuccessfully to persuade the health insurance company to reconsider.  In early 2016, Gilbert developed a scheme to force the insurer to change its position. 

Gilbert came up with a plan to push a bill through the Alabama Legislature’s 2016 session that would require Blue Cross to cover the treatments. He then made payments Hammon in exchange for his efforts on behalf of the bill. He also hired former Alabama GOP chairman Marty Connors. Hammon and Connors then recruited longtime State Rep. Jack Williams, the chairman of the Commerce and Small Business Committee of the Alabama House of Representatives, to hold a public hearing on the bill. The bill ultimately failed.

“Mr. Gilbert thought that it would take only a small payment to turn the Alabama House of Representatives into a tool for solving his own business problems,” U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin Sr. said Friday.  “Fortunately, Gilbert was not successful in persuading the legislature to pass this tainted bill.  Nevertheless, it is my hope that this case sends a strong message to business owners and special interest groups who might seek to obtain legislative assistance through improper means.  My office will do whatever it takes to ensure that the citizens of this state are served by the state legislature they deserve—one committed to doing only the people’s work.”

Gilbert faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, and up to three years of supervised release. He will be sentenced in April.