By KIM CHANDLER and MALLORY MOENCH, Associated Press
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama legislator and a lobbyist who once chaired the Alabama Republican Party appeared in federal court Monday on conspiracy charges related to payments made to another lawmaker to advance an insurance bill.
State Republican Rep. Jack D. Williams of Vestavia Hills and lobbyist Marty Connors were arrested and charged Monday with conspiracy to commit bribery and mail fraud, authorities said. Each appeared shackled at the waist and wrists before U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles S. Coody in Montgomery.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan S. Ross said Williams and Connors were arrested at their homes Monday morning. Neither has a lawyer or entered a plea, but both indicated that they plan to hire counsel. Each was being released on bail.
The California-based owner of Trina Health diabetes treatment centers, G. Ford Gilbert, also was arrested, according to authorities. The third defendant wasn’t in court and it wasn’t immediately clear from court records whether Gilbert has an attorney.
Prosecutors said in a statement announcing the arrests that Gilbert had paid then-state Rep. Micky Hammon, who was the Alabama Republican majority leader, to promote legislation in 2016 that would require a prominent insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, to cover treatments at Trina clinics.
According to the indictment unsealed Monday, Hammon had been given an ownership interest in a Trina clinic, had received payments as the clinic prepared to open and had $240,000 in debt that Gilbert had offered to assist with settling. Both Williams and Connors knew about Hammon’s financial interest in Trina and his receipt of payments from those licensees, according to the indictment.
Prosecutors said Connors, who was lobbying for the 2016 bill, recruited Williams who used his position as a House committee chairman to hold a public hearing on the bill in the hopes of putting pressure on Blue Cross. Williams acted to help Hammon, “who, as everyone in the scheme knew, was experiencing grave financial problems,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
The legislation did not pass.
Hammon was removed from the Alabama Legislature last year when he pleaded guilty to illegally using campaign funds for personal use. A judge in February sentenced Hammon to three months in prison for felony mail fraud. No additional charges were announced against Hammon.
Williams has served in the House of Representatives since 2004. Connors served as chairman of the Alabama Republican Party from 2001 to 2005.
The charges announced Monday marked the latest in a string of corruption investigations that have ensnared Alabama politicians.
Former Rep. Oliver Robinson, a Democrat, pleaded guilty last year to taking a bribe for using his legislative position to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency’s prioritization of a pollution site in Birmingham. Last year, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign finance charge and stepped down amid accusations of an affair with an aide. In 2016, former Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard was convicted of ethics violations including using his public office to drum up clients and investments for his businesses.
Williams and Conners are set to appear in court for arraignment April 18.