FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KFSM) — A former Northwest Arkansas orthodontist is accused of bribing former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson to influence legislation beneficial to his business.
Dr. Benjamin Gray Burris, 47, was charged Monday (Aug. 19) in U.S. District Court with 14 counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud.
Starting in February 2014, Burris paid Hutchinson "to take official action as an Arkansas legislator to benefit Burris and his orthodontic companies," according to the U.S. attorney's office for the Western District of Arkansas.
Prosecutors said Burris paid Hutchinson roughly $157,000 over two years to draft and file legislation to amend a law restricting dental practices that Burris wanted to change.
Burris also provided Hutchinson with gifts, including free orthodontic services for his family and the use of a private plane to travel to a college football game.
A spokesman for Dr. Burris said they were "disappointed that the government has chosen to disregard clear and compelling evidence that undermines these charges."
"Dr. Burris has long been a tireless advocate for improving patient well-being and increasing access to dental care," the spokesman said. "(W)e plan to mount a forceful defense.”
Talk Business & Politics reported that Hutchinson worked with Burris to overturn and file legislation that prevented dental hygienists and specialists from engaging in certain dental and orthodontic practices.
Hutchinson, who is Gov. Asa Hutchinson's nephew, pleaded guilty in June in federal court to accepting bribes and filing a false tax return, part of an agreement with federal prosecutors in a sprawling corruption probe, according to the Associated Press.
Now living in Florida, Burris had several dental and orthodontic clinics registered under his name spread throughout Arkansas.
According to the Arkansas Secretary of State's office, Burris owned clinics in Bella Vista, Clarksville, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Van Buren and Waldron.
Burris' arraignment is set for Sept. 11 in Fayetteville.
A conviction for wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.