FAYETTEVILLE – A Florida dentist, formerly of Arkansas, pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud in a scheme with former Arkansas State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson that occurred between 2014 and 2016.
U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks presided over the change of plea hearing, in which Benjamin Gray Burris, age 49, pleaded guilty to count one of an Indictment issued by a grand jury charging him with conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. Burris was charged with additional counts of honest services wire fraud, but according to the terms of the plea agreement, those charges will be dismissed at sentencing.
According to court documents, between February of 2014 through November of 2016, Burris was the owner of several orthodontic clinics and practiced as an orthodontist through Arkansas. The scheme began when on February 27, 2014, Burris, State Senator Jeremy Hutchinson, and others met for a dinner at a Little Rock restaurant and discussed Burris’s legislative objectives and hiring Hutchinson as Burris’s corporate legal counsel. Jeremy Hutchinson, who then represented state Senate District 33, comprised of portions of Pulaski and Saline County, Arkansas, stated that as part of any arrangement there needed to be “real legal work.” In his plea agreement, Burris admitted that part of his intent in hiring Hutchinson was to enable Burris to influence and request official action from Hutchinson on legislative issues and other matters as the need arose. Throughout the course of their arrangement, Burris’s legal entities paid Hutchinson Law Firm an approximate total of $157,500 at a rate of approximately $5,000 per month as a general retainer and Hutchinson was assigned legal work.