An orthodontist who is accused of paying $157,000 in kickbacks and providing free dental work to an Arkansas lawmaker has pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to a report in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
Benjamin Burris, DDS, entered a plea of not guilty on September 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas to 15 counts of fraud and wire fraud charges. Dr. Burris allegedly bribed former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson of Little Rock, AR, with cash and free dental work for the politician and his family in exchange for his legislative influence.
Dr. Burris remains free on $10,000 bond. His next court appearance has not been scheduled.
In 2014, the men allegedly set up an arrangement in which Dr. Burris agreed to pay Hutchinson, a lawyer, a legal retainer in exchange for his help in passing laws and regulations that benefited the orthodontic clinics Dr. Burris operated throughout the state, according to court documents.
Hutchinson allegedly used his influence to revamp dental laws, such as encouraging the Arkansas State Board of Dental Examiners to change rules prohibiting orthodontists from using dental hygienists to clean patients' teeth. The lawmaker also pushed for the state's human services department to rush the approval of Medicaid applications for physician employees of Dr. Burris' clinics, according to court records.
Hutchinson, who resigned from the Arkansas Senate in 2018 after being indicted on wire and tax fraud charges from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), has already admitted in court to accepting bribes.
On June 25, Hutchinson pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit federal program bribery, according to the DOJ. A sentencing date has not been scheduled for Hutchinson, who is the nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson.