Webster Hubbell, a close friend of President Clinton and a former top Justice Department official, was sentenced yesterday to 21 months in prison for defrauding the Arkansas law firm where he and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton once worked together as partners.
While Hubbell's crime did not involve the Clintons, he is the most prominent and nearest acquaintance of the first family to be swept up by the wide-ranging Whitewater investigation, which originally focused on the president and his wife.
Members of Hubbell's family wept as U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. of Little Rock, Ark., imposed the longest jail term given to any defendant so far as a result of the 18-month inquiry now led by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
At the White House, the Clintons issued a statement saying that Hubbell had "given much to his family, state and country." They noted that he had "assumed full responsibility for his mistakes and accepted the consequences of his actions."
Eleven people, including Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, have been charged or pleaded guilty to charges arising from the probe, but only three have been sentenced.
Hubbell has been cooperating with Starr since pleading guilty in December to charges of mail fraud and tax evasion. He admitted to falsely claiming $482,410 in expense reimbursements from the Rose Law Firm and his former clients, and evading $143,747 in federal income taxes.
But his cooperation did not win him as significant a reduction in his sentence as he apparently had hoped. Although Hubbell could have drawn a sentence of as long as 27 months under federal sentencing guidelines, he had asked for a reduction of his term to 16 months.
In addition to serving a prison term, beginning Aug. 7, Hubbell was instructed to make restitution of $135,000 of the money he stole. He also was instructed to talk to prison inmates about the importance of family and education to fulfill a community-service requirement.
As a result of Hubbell's plea bargain, he has spent more than 100 hours since December answering questions put to him by Whitewater prosecutors. But he provided no information implicating the president in any crime, according to knowledgeable sources.
In exchange for Hubbell's cooperation, Mr. Starr showed some restraint by making no recommendation to the judge regarding the sentence.
Hubbell's lawyers sought a reduced sentence on grounds that he is a man "who has devoted such a large part of his life doing for others -- making his community a better place to live."
Mr. Starr responded by noting these charitable activities were often financed with money he stole.