Florida dentist sentenced to 12 months and a day in prison for public corruption scheme involving former Arkansas state senator | USAO-WDAR

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FAYETTEVILLEA Florida, formerly Arkansas, dentist was today sentenced to 12 months and a day in jail followed by a year of supervised release and a $157,500 fine for conspiracy to commit fraud honest service. The Honorable Judge Timothy L. Brooks presided over the sentencing hearing in the United States District Court in Fayetteville.

According to court documents, between February 2014 and November 2016, Benjamin Gray Burris, 50 years, has been the owner of several orthodontic clinics and practiced as an orthodontist across Arkansas. On February 27, 2014, Burri, State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson and others met for dinner at a restaurant in Little Rock and chatted Burris’s legislative goals and the hiring of Hutchinson as Burris’s corporate legal counsel. Jeremy Hutchinson, who then represented State Senate District 33, made up of parts of Pulaski and Saline County, Arkansas, said that as part of any arrangement, there had to be “real work legal”. In his plea agreement, Burri admitted that part of his intention in hiring Hutchinson was to allow Burri to influence and demand official action from Hutchinson. Throughout their arrangement, Burris’s the corporations paid Hutchinson Law Firm a total of $157,500 at a rate of approximately $5,000 per month as a general retainer and Hutchinson was assigned legal work.

Specifically, Burri sent Hutchinson an email describing Burris’s “Legislative objectives” at the end of February 2014 in which Burri said he wanted specialty restrictions on orthodontists removed. On January 26, 2015, Hutchinson introduced an umbrella bill in the Arkansas Senate titled “An Act to Clarify the Laws Governing Dental Practice.” Later, on April 6, 2015, Hutchinson filed a related draft study proposal with the Senate Committee on Public Health, Welfare, and Labor. On September 22, 2015, Hutchinson filed another interim study proposal (ISP-2015-154) on the subject. This ISP has, among other things, proposed to remove the specialist restriction for orthodontists. According to the text messages quoted in Burris’s plea agreement, in 2016 Burri texted Hutchinson complaining about a lack of “ROI” also known as “return on investment” in its deal with Hutchinson and he asked for specific updates on legislative matters. ISP-2015-154 was finally filed as House Bill 1250 on January 23, 2017, after Hutchinson claimed a late dispute, passed in the 91st Arkansas State Assembly, and was subsequently enacted on or about March 15, 2017.

Burri sold his businesses and moved to Florida in the spring of 2017 and has not practiced in Arkansas since then.

Burri plead guilty on September 13, 2021.

U.S. Attorney David Clay Fowlkes of the Western District of Arkansas and U.S. Attorney Jonathan D. Ross of the Eastern District of Arkansas made the announcement.

The FBI and IRS investigated the case.

Aaron Jennen, Ben Wulff, Stephanie Mazzanti, Allison Bragg and Assistant US Attorney Kenneth Elser prosecuted the case for the United States.

Related court documents can be viewed on the Electronic Records Public Access website at www.pacer.gov.

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