By KIM CHANDLER and MALLORY MOENCH, The Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama lawmaker, a lobbyist who once led the Alabama Republican Party and a health care executive have pleaded not guilty to federal conspiracy charges.
State Republican Rep. Jack D. Williams, lobbyist Marty Connors and G. Ford Gilbert, the California-based CEO of Trina Health, were arrested earlier this month and charged with conspiracy to commit bribery and mail fraud.
The three men pleaded not guilty in federal court in Montgomery on Wednesday. Trial is set for Sept. 4 though the date could change after the defense counsel reviews the government’s evidence, which they said is 8,000 pages long.
Prosecutors say Gilbert paid then-state Rep. Micky Hammon to promote an insurance bill that would benefit his business. Hammon had a small ownership interest in a Trina clinic in Alabama.
According to the indictment, Gilbert gave things to Hammon, such as money and offers to repay his creditors, to get Hammon to benefit Trina Health in the Alabama Legislature. Federal prosecutors said that included promoting 2016 legislation which would have required a major insurer — Blue Cross and Blue Shield — to cover treatments at Trina clinics. The legislation ultimately failed.
Prosecutors said that Williams took action to aid the legislation — including calling a public hearing before the committee he chaired — knowing that “Trina Health had offered and given things of value” to Hammon and that Hammon would gain financially should Blue Cross cover the treatments.
Hammon was removed from the Alabama Legislature last year when he pleaded guilty to illegally using campaign funds for personal use. A federal judge in February sentenced Hammon to three months in prison for felony mail fraud.
The attorneys for the three men charged Wednesday said their clients are innocent.
“I have done nothing wrong, and once the facts are presented, I expect to be found innocent,” Williams said in a personal statement after his arrest earlier this month.
The lawmaker from Vestavia Hills is retiring from the state House of Representatives this year and seeking election to the Jefferson County Commission. Williams said he has no plans to step down early and will continue his campaign.
His attorney, Jake Watson, said Wednesday that Williams “was caught up in something that he had no idea was going on.”
Joe Espy, attorney for lobbyist Connors, pushed for an earlier trial date before the federal judge to “clear his client’s name as quickly as possible” but settled for September after conferring with the other defense attorneys.
Birmingham-based Richard Jaffe, who is representing Gilbert, said he has “never represented a client who’s been more adamant about his innocence.”
“It’s a hotly contested case with significant ramifications,” Jaffe said.
Gilbert is restricted to travel between his home in California and Alabama for legal purposes only.