The man who marketed a dubious treatment for diabetes internationally has been sentenced to 12 months in confinement – six of it in federal prison — stemming from a pay-to-play bribery conviction in Alabama.
Why this matters
The nation has a limited supply of healthcare dollars to spend on drugs and services, which is why the government and health plans require scientific evidence of patient benefit. This is especially important for the 30.3 million people in the U.S. with diabetes, whose medical costs in 2012 totaled $245 billion.
G. Ford Gilbert, a Sacramento lawyer whose law license was suspended earlier this month, was the subject of an inewsource investigation published last year. Gilbert claimed his infusion protocol reversed complications of diabetes, and he assured dozens of Trina Health clinic investors that Medicare and private insurance would cover it.
His sentence stems from his conviction of conspiring to bribe a state legislator in Alabama.
U.S. District Judge Myron H. Thompson in Montgomery sentenced Gilbert Tuesday. The term was consistent with Gilbert’s January deal: He agreed to plead guilty to one count of trying to bribe a public official, and the remaining six public corruption charges, including health care fraud, mail fraud and racketeering, would be dropped.
Gilbert, 71, could have received a sentence of up to five years in prison in connection with his diabetes franchise, which federal prosecutors called a “pyramid scheme.” He also could have been ordered to pay a fine of up to $250,000. However, Judge Thompson decided to impose no fine, said U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Doug Howard.
In an interview earlier this year, Alabama Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross, who prosecuted the case, said Gilbert’s business model “for Trina Health was really based on opening clinics, not that the clinics themselves were going to be profitable. … Gilbert sold people on a promise that was not likely to ever be fulfilled.”
In a brief statement after the sentencing, Gilbert’s attorney, Richard Jaffe, said his client “allowed his passion for diabetes treatment to overcome his judgment resulting in this criminal conviction.”
“He is both embarrassed and remorseful, and certainly will not tread into the realm of legislation in the future,” Jaffe said.
In a series of stories last year called Hustling Hope, inewsource documented how Gilbert’s business model called for clinics to submit claims for infusion treatments based on codes for outpatient medical services that Medicare and insurers initially paid. The insurers did not recognize at first that the service was the same as one the federal agency that runs Medicare declined to reimburse because it decided in 2009 that the treatment did not have enough evidence of benefit for patients.
Gilbert was indicted by an Alabama grand jury in April 2018 for making payments to then-Alabama House Majority Leader Micky Hammon in exchange for Hammon’s help in sponsoring a bill that would force BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama to pay for the insulin infusions at three Trina clinics in the state, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montgomery.
In a news release Tuesday reporting Gilbert’s sentencing, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, “After his attempts to persuade (Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama) BCBS-AL to cover the treatments were unsuccessful, he developed another plan,” involving Hammon.
“Court documents indicate that Hammon used his influence in the House of Representatives to generate support for Gilbert’s bill and was paid $2000.00 by Gilbert to do so. However, the bill failed when it did not advance out of committee,” the release said.
Hammon was sentenced to serve three months in prison in February 2018.
Over the last several years, Gilbert left a national trail of broken and angry clinic investors in many other states, from Montana and Kansas to Mississippi and Louisiana. Several told inewsource they lost large sums of money after Medicare and private insurers stopped paying.
In San Diego, the Trina clinic operations came to light after physicians heard some of their patients asking about a Trina clinic for people with diabetes run out of the family practice office of Dr. James Novak in Pacific Beach. One physician expressed doubt that four-hour insulin infusion sessions could accomplish what the Trina advertisements had claimed.
Another physician and her patient said she was endangered by the procedure when she was sent home after an infusion session with skyrocketing levels of blood sugar.
inewsource spent months interviewing more than 100 diabetes experts, clinic operators, hospital and government officials and investors and developed a mini-documentary that ran on PBS NewsHour with Judy Woodruff on June 19, 2018.
Gilbert was ordered to report to the Bureau of Prisons on Aug. 28, said Howard with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, adding the bureau will decide where he will serve his term.
Also implicated in the public corruption scheme were former Alabama Rep. Jack Williams and lobbyist Martin J. “Marty” Connors. Hammon and Connors were accused of recruiting Williams to hold a public hearing on Gilbert’s bill to force insurance company payment, and that Williams knew of Gilbert’s payments to Hammon.
Williams reportedly signed a pre-trial diversion agreement and charges against him were dropped.
Click here to see the full investigation.
We’ll let you know when big things happen.