Ben Burris Feels Financial Crunch

Ben Burris Feels Financial Crunch
Ben Burris

These days, even Dr. Ben Burris is having a hard time making ends meet.

Burris, the former Fayetteville orthodontist who is charged with bribing former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, is seeking court approval to transfer his two Florida homes to his wife. That way she could get a loan secured by those homes to help pay for Burris’ legal team and his orthodontic practice.

Burris, who now lives in Florida, is facing 14 counts of honest services wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud. He has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville.

The order signed last year that allowed Burris out on bond prevents him from taking on debts or transferring ownership interest in his property. That’s why his legal team filed the motion earlier this month to tweak the order.

Burris’ attorneys said in the motion that the COVID-19 pandemic had upended his ability to earn money at his clinic, Smiley Face of Orlando, Florida.

The practice employs 16 people and was temporarily shut down March 20 because of the virus.

Making matters worse, Burris couldn’t tap any government funds under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security Act because of the federal charges hanging over his head. Instead, Burris has been paying his workers out of his own pocket, and as of May 5, he had paid about $71,000, the filing said.

Since March 20, Smiley Face “has operated on a very limited basis, and revenues have predictably dropped significantly,” the motion said. And revenue isn’t expected to improve any time soon.

“In the months of April and May, [Burris’ practice] received a total of 102 patient requests to defer payments for those months, totaling approximately $28,000,” the motion said. “In addition, the Practice had $119,000 of bank or credit card payments that failed to process due to insufficient funds in the last month. Those shortfalls and requests for deferrals are expected to grow as economic conditions, including a dramatically increased unemployment rate, continue to worsen.”

At Smiley Face, patients typically make an initial down payment and then are billed monthly payments through their treatment.

The U.S. government in its filing last month said it didn’t have a problem with Burris’ request.

Burris is being represented by Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, which is based in Nashville, Tennessee, and has more than 270 attorneys in three states; the global firm Ropes & Gray; and the Wilkinson Law Firm of Bentonville.

Burris is being prosecuted jointly by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Fort Smith and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section.

U.S. District Judge Timothy L. Brooks hadn’t ruled on Burris’ request as of Thursday morning. Burris’ case is set for trial on Oct. 13.

Hutchinson, a lawyer and nephew of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, has already admitted receiving bribes from Burris, but no date for sentencing him had been set as of Thursday.