FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KKNWA/KFTA) — A Florida dentist, formerly of Arkansas, was sentenced January 24, to one year and one day in prison followed by one year of supervised release and a $157,500 fine on one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.
According to a news release from the United States Attorney’s Office Western District of Arkansas, Benjamin Gray Burris, 50, was the owner of several orthodontic clinics and practiced as an orthodontist through Arkansas.
The news release says on February 27, 2014, Burris, State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson, and others met for dinner at a Little Rock restaurant and discussed Burris’s legislative objectives and hiring Hutchinson as Burris’s corporate legal counsel.
Hutchinson, who then represented state Senate District 33, comprised of portions of Pulaski and Saline County, Arkansas, stated that as part of any arrangement there needed to be “real legal work,” according to the release.
Burris admitted in his plea agreement that part of his intent in hiring Hutchinson was to enable Burris to influence and request official action from Hutchinson.
Throughout the course of their arrangement, Burris’s legal entities paid Hutchinson Law Firm a total of $157,500 at a rate of around $5,000 per month as a general retainer, and Hutchinson was assigned legal work.
The release says Burris sent Hutchinson an email outlining Burris’s “legislative objectives” in late February 2014 in which Burris said he wanted specialty restrictions on orthodontists removed.
On January 26, 2015, Hutchinson filed a shell bill in the Arkansas Senate entitled “An Act to Clarify the Laws Governing Dental Practice.” On April 6, 2015, Hutchinson filed a related interim study proposal with the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor, according to the release.
On September 22, 2015, Hutchinson filed another interim study proposal on the subject. The interim study proposal, among other things, proposed to remove the specialist restriction for orthodontists.
The release says Burris sent text messages to Hutchinson complaining about a lack of “return on investment” in his arrangement with Hutchinson and he requested specific updates on legislative matters.
The second interim study proposal was eventually filed as House Bill 1250 on January 23, 2017, after Hutchinson claimed a belated conflict, passed in the 91st General Assembly of the State of Arkansas, and was later signed into law on or about March 15, 2017, according to the release.
Burris sold his businesses and moved to Florida in the spring of 2017 and has not practiced in Arkansas since then.
Burris pleaded guilty on September 13, 2021.