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“Artificial Pancreas Clinic” Owner Pleads Guilty to Bribery

Craig Idlebrook/GluCraig

The founder of a controversial business that offers a controversial diabetes treatment has pleaded guilty to bribing an Alabama lawmaker.

Early this month, G. Ford Gilbert, the owner of Trina Health, LLC, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit bribery of a state official, according to an announcement made by the office of the United States Attorney’s Office – Middle District of Alabama. The charge stems from a scheme that prosecutors say Gilbert hatched to gain health insurance coverage in Alabama for a controversial treatment championed by his company.

Trina Health has opened a series of clinics that offered “outpatient intravenous insulin therapy” for people with diabetes; the company has also called the treatment an “artificial pancreas treatment” and a “microburst insulin infusion” in Trina Health promotional literature. It was claimed by the company that this insulin therapy would provide a novel health benefit to people with diabetes, but federal health regulators have not found evidence to back up this claim.

After Trina Health opened two clinics in Alabama, the company received notice that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama would not provide coverage for the treatment. When attempts to appeal that decision failed, Gilbert paid Micky Ray Hammon, a then-Alabama state lawmaker, $2,000 to build support for a bill that would have compelled the insurance company to cover the treatments. The bill never advanced out of committee in the Alabama State Legislature.

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In exchange for the plea agreement, other charges against Gilbert have been dropped, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross in a brief telephone interview with T1D Exchange Glu. However, the plea agreement did not require Gilbert to dissolve Trina Health, and Ross didn’t know if the company was still in operation.

Phone calls to the number listed on the company’s homepage went to voicemail. Three calls were made to clinics listed on the homepage as regional Trina Health clinics. Someone who answered the phone for a diabetes clinic said to be open in New York City, answered with a different name for the clinic, and then said, “You have the wrong number” when asked about Trina Health. Another clinic in Mississippi said that they were once connected with Trina Health, but that the company had shut down. A third number for a clinic in Texas was disconnected.

However, Gilbert’s attorney, Richard Jaffe, gave a statement to MedPage Today that indicated Gilbert might still want to be involved in diabetes treatments in the future: “This agreement will allow Ford to spend many years developing diabetes treatments that he has devoted his life to improving since his daughter contracted the disease when she was a child. He has learned some valuable lessons and looks forward to putting this matter behind him.”

U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin said in a statement that he hopes the case serves as an example for others who might try to unduly influence Alabama state lawmakers: “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…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,” he said in a statement about the plea deal.

A January trial date for others who were indicted in the case against Trina Health has been postponed. Gilbert is scheduled to be sentenced in April, according to a report in the News & Observer. He faces a maximum of five years in prison, $250,000 in fines, and three years of supervised release.

The photo above is a screenshot for Trina Health‘s homepage. 

 

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