Dr. Ben Burris, an orthodontist who formerly lived in Fayetteville, pleaded guilty Monday morning to bribing former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson.
Burris, who had moved to Florida before he was indicted in August 2019, had been scheduled for trial in October. Hutchinson pleaded guilty in June 2019 to accepting bribes from Burris and other federal crimes, and he was expected to be the government's star witness. He has not yet been sentenced.
In a deal with federal prosecutors in the Western District of Arkansas, Burris agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the 14 additional counts of honest service fraud that were alleged in the grand jury's indictment.
While the maximum sentence for the crime of conspiracy to commit honest service fraud is 20 years, Burris is likely to be sentenced to a fraction of that. His plea agreement acknowledges multiple bribes of an elected official, suggesting a guideline sentence of 33 to 41 months.
Burris acknowledged that he paid Hutchinson $157,500 between February 2014 and November 2016, and gave Hutchinson's children free braces, with the intent of influencing Hutchinson's official actions as a legislator.
First on a list of "Legislative Objectives" that Burris sent Hutchinson was amending the state Dental Practices Act so that orthodontists could practice general dentistry, a restriction that had created conflict between Burris and the Arkansas Board of Dental Examiners.