Orthodontist Accused of Bribing Former Arkansas Lawmaker

LITTLE ROCK (CN) – A Florida-based orthodontist who operates several clinics in Arkansas was charged Monday in a bribery and fraud scheme involving disgraced former state Senator Jeremy Hutchinson, who pleaded guilty in June for his role in the conspiracy.

The Arkansas capitol building in Little Rock.

The 15-count indictment unsealed Monday accuses Benjamin Gray Burris, 47, with paying approximately $157,500 in kickbacks in part for Hutchinson, a Republican, to take official action as a state legislator to benefit the orthodontist and his companies.

Prosecutors say the payments were disguised as retainer payments and funneled though Hutchinson’s law firm from February 2014 through November 2016. Burris also allegedly gave Hutchinson gifts, including free orthodontic services for his family and the use of a private plane to travel to a college football game.

“In exchange for the retainers and gifts, Hutchinson performed some legal services and used and agreed to use his official authority as an Arkansas legislator to effect and attempt to effect changes to the Dental Practices Act,” the 20-page indictment states.

Hutchinson, a former six-term state senator from Little Rock who served in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 2000 to 2007, also advised and influenced members of the Arkansas Department of Human Services, on Burris’s behalf, to expedite the approval of Medicaid applications for physician employees of Burris’s clinics, prosecutors say.

Hutchinson, a nephew of Governor Asa Hutchinson, resigned last August after prosecutors unveiled federal charges against him for campaign finance violations and tax fraud.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker accepted Hutchinson’s guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery in June. A sentencing date for Hutchinson, 45, has not yet been scheduled.

Burris was charged with14 counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. He is scheduled to be arraigned on Sept. 11 in Fayetteville.

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