A well-known orthodontist in Arkansas has been charged with 15 counts of fraud and wire fraud on charges that he allegedly paid bribes to and performed free dental work for a former state senator in exchange for legislation that benefited his dental clinics.
According to court documents filed on August 16 with the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Benjamin Burris, DDS, is accused of giving bribes and providing free dental work to former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson. Hutchinson resigned from the state Legislature in 2018 after being indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) on wire and tax fraud charges.
In February 2014, Burris and Hutchinson allegedly devised a scheme in which Dr. Burris agreed to retain Hutchinson for legal services in exchange for his legislative influence, according to an indictment issued by the U.S. attorney's office.
Between 2014 and 2016, Burris provided Hutchinson with free orthodontic work for his family, use of a private plane to attend a college football game, and $157,000 in payments to his law firm, according to a DOJ release.
In return, Hutchinson used his position to encourage the Arkansas State Board of Dental Examiners to change rules prohibiting orthodontists from using dental hygienists to clean patients' teeth.
Burris, who operated clinics throughout Arkansas, also pushed Hutchinson to use his influence to revamp dental laws, allowing hygienists to take x-rays and perform some procedures without a dentist supervising, the DOJ stated.
In addition, Hutchinson allegedly advised and influenced members of the state's human services department to rush the approval of Medicaid applications for physician employees of Burris' clinics, according to the grand jury charges.
Hutchinson, of Little Rock, AR, recently pleaded guilty on June 25 to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, according to the DOJ. His sentencing date hasn't been scheduled.
Dr. Burris' arraignment is yet to be scheduled. Dr. Burris, who now resides in Windermere, FL, will plead innocent to the charges, according to a statement from his legal representation to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
"Dr. Burris has long been a tireless advocate for improving patient well-being and increasing access to dental care. We are disappointed that the government has chosen to disregard clear and compelling evidence that undermines these charges, and we plan to mount a forceful defense," stated a spokesperson from the Boston office of the Ropes & Gray law firm to the Democrat Gazette.