Yet another scandal has exploded into the headlines in the deep red state of Alabama.
The former chairman of the Alabama Republican Party, a Republican state legislator and a Northern California health care executive were arrested today on public corruption charges.
A fourth Republican, former Alabama House Majority Leader Micky Hammon, was also involved but has already pleaded guilty to related charges and is serving a sentence in prison so he was not included in today’s indictments.
The scheme began with G. Ford Gilbert of Carmichael, California, owner of Trina Healthcare, after he opened three diabetes care centers in Alabama in 2014 and 2015.
Blue Cross-Blue Shield refused to cover patients treated at the Trina clinics so Gilbert set out to get a bill passed by the Alabama state legislature that would force them to pay him.
The bill, HB415, introduced in 2016, would have prohibited an insurance company from requiring intravenous insulin infusion patients to use a hospital instead of a medical office or a clinic like Trina.
Gilbert, according to U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin Jr. in a press release, “made payments to State of Alabama House Majority Leader Micky Hammon in exchange for his efforts on behalf of the bill.”
In 2016 Gilbert hired Marty Connors, a well-known Republican lobbyist who had been chairman of the Alabama Republican party, after which Hammon and Connors recruited state Rep. Jack Williams, a former Jefferson County tax collector, who chaired the House Small Business Committee and introduced the proposed legislation and held public hearings on the bill. The bill later died in committee.
According to the FBI, Connors, Hammon, and Williams, all knew that the others were being paid by Gilbert.
Hammon, who was described as being in a “financial crisis” at the time, eventually pleaded guilty to mail fraud for using campaign contributions for personal gain and was sentenced to three months in prison (he is now serving time in Indiana).
The investigators pressed Hammon for information about other lawmakers and people involved which led them to today’s indictments.
The U.S. Attorney’s statement said that all three are charged with conspiracy to commit bribery related to federal programs, conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, and honest services wire fraud.
Gilbert and Connors are also charged with bribery related to federal programs, and Gilbert alone is also charged on a single count of wire fraud, health care fraud, and interstate travel in aid of racketeering. If convicted, each defendant would face up to 20 years in prison and substantial fines.
This kind of corruption reeks of a way of life in Alabama where everybody and everything has a price, and corrupt businessmen like Gilbert are more than willing to pay that price.
The only surprise — considering the fact that the whole thing died in a House committee— is that it ever got to the point of these indictments. That seems to be attributable to Hammon, who in his desperation, got caught and led the U.S. Postal Inspectors with the help of the FBI to uncover the whole messy scheme.
Republican-controlled Alabama may rank near the bottom among states in education, healthcare, and the percentage of its citizens living in poverty, but it repeatedly rises up when it comes to corruption and dirty deals. This sordid affair marks just one more stain among many on the modern GOP.