Hubbell's new home up river is prison Change of place: The presidential buddy still lives on the Potomac but 140 miles from Washington in a Cumberland camp.

October 01, 1995|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

CUMBERLAND -- Webster L. Hubbell, ex-presidential golf buddy and the Justice Department's former No. 3 man, still lives along the Potomac River.

But these days, his residence is in Allegany County, 140 miles up the river from Washington, at a clean, spacious, institutional-looking facility along a bend in the Potomac's North Branch. With red-brick, two-story buildings and covered walkways, the place looks much like a college campus.

But it is a prison, a new Federal Prison Camp here where Hubbell, 47, is in the second month of a 21-month sentence after pleading guilty to falsely claiming $482,410 in expense reimbursements from former clients and the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Ark. -- where first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was once a partner. He also pleaded guilty to evading $143,747 in federal income taxes.

Hubbell declines to be interviewed, and prison officials will not speak specifically about any aspect of his incarceration.

"He's just like any other prisoner here," said Stephen D. Finger, executive assistant at the Federal Correctional Institution, which includes the camp and a 1,000-in-mate medium-security prison.

As to how the man who served in the Washington's halls of Justice from winter 1993 until resigning in April 1994 is faring, a friend who declined to be identified but said he has exchanged letters with Hubbell described the once successful lawyer as seeming to be "managing satisfactorily."

Hubbell's life these days definitely differs from his life of the past.

* Once a wine connoisseur and patron of nice restaurants, he dines -- without a wine list -- on spaghetti, hamburgers, hot dogs and other modest fare prepared in mass quantities and eaten in the company of hundreds of men.

* Accustomed to pricey residential sections of Little Rock and Washington, Hubbell lives now in dormitory-style housing with four to six inmates to a room. They share toilets, showers, television sets and multipurpose rooms, where they can read, write letters, play board games.

* The man who earned $123,000 a year as an associate U.S. attorney general now earns between 11 cents and 45 cents an hour. Jobs at the prison range from janitorial to outdoor maintenance to food preparation. Hubbell, who has a degree in electrical engineering, has been assigned to repair small motors, his unnamed friend said.

* Once President Clinton's golfing buddy, Hubbell now can only enjoy the greens on a television set shared with other inmates. He has access to other outdoor activities: basketball and handball courts, a softball field and a jogging track.

Room with a view

Prison has afforded Hubbell one amenity he enjoyed at his Little Rock home: a view. His home high on a ridge above the Arkansas capital offered a view of the Little Rock skyline. The prison camp affords broad views of the Appalachian Mountains.

With his 6-foot-5, 260-pound frame, the former University of Arkansas football star likely would stand out among the 287 other camp inmates. But, like the others, he wears dark green prison suits and is with men who also have committed white-collar crimes. About 40 percent of the inmates are here for bribery or fraud, property-related or white-collar crimes. The rest were jailed for drug-related offenses.

"These inmates aren't what we would consider public safety risks," Mr. Finger said.

Hubbell leads a life devoid of privacy and filled with routine. A typical day goes like this: Lights go on at 5:30 a.m. By 7:30 a.m., inmates are on work details or, for those with little education, attending courses. At 11 a.m. lunch is served. The inmates return to work until 3:30 p.m. Then it's dinner and free time. Visitors are allowed during Monday, Thursday, Friday afternoons, and during the day Saturday and Sunday.

"There's not a lot of privacy," Mr. Finger said. "You share a room with someone else. You're told when to get up, what to wear, when to eat, where you will be all hours of the day."

Hubbell, former mayor of Little Rock and a former Arkansas Supreme Court justice, is what some might call the prison's first celebrity inmate. He arrived at the camp Aug. 7, a trip only briefly noted by the media.

Largely unnoticed

But his temporary residence here largely has gone unnoticed among local residents, who turned out by the thousands to tour the prison complex last fall.

More important to them is the presence of the Federal Correctional Institution.

It's seen as an economic boon in a community struggling to expand its employment base.

"We estimated that every job at the prison would create three jobs in the community," said Sharon Thomas, executive director of the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce. "We are greatly encouraged by the presence of the federal prison in Cumberland and the region."

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