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“Camp Cupcake” — that’s how R.L. McFadden, the administrator of a federal prison camp near Butner, N.C., describes the minimum-security prison where convicted ex-Rep. Frank Ballance (D-N.C.) is serving four years for steering federal money to a North Carolina nonprofit he controlled.
Until recently, ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), who was sentenced to eight years and four months for taking $2.4 million in kickbacks from defense contractors, was a fellow inmate.
Part of the sprawling Butner Correctional Complex, the 328-man satellite camp where Ballance is residing boasts open-dormitory style housing, just eight prison guards and no towering fences or guard towers to prevent escape.
“It’s an easy place to do your time,” McFadden said in an interview. “This is definitely the place for your low-level offenders.”
McFadden says Ballance, now known as prisoner No. 24792-056, works as a library orderly and a peer counselor in the camp’s “I-Care” program that helps inmates adjust to life inside.
Though he failed to get his sentence reduced by arguing it was improperly linked to a case against his son, Ballance, 64, is making the most of his time. He will be released in June 2009.
“He’s a mature gentleman. He conducts himself as a gentleman. He doesn’t cause problems,” McFadden said.
“I never see him engaged in anything but walking and eating,” he added. “He doesn’t miss any meals.”
Following an unusual wave of Congressional corruption cases, Ballance is part of a quartet of ex-Congressman cons currently in federal lockup or headed there shortly.
Besides Ballance and Cunningham, former Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) was sentenced Jan. 19 to 30 months in prison for accepting bribes connected to the Jack Abramoff scandal and will report to prison soon, while ex-Rep. James Traficant (Ohio) already is behind bars, serving eight years for bribery, fraud and racketeering.
Three of the four ex-Members — Ballance, Cunningham and Ney — are lucky: They are likely to serve out their sentences in federal prison camps, or minimum-security facilities without perimeter fencing, very few guards and nonviolent offenders, most of them there on drug charges. Prison riots or attacks aren’t likely to occur in these low-key facilities.
Traficant currently resides in Minnesota’s Rochester Medical Center, where inmates of all security levels are housed, with an undisclosed medical condition.
The flamboyant ex-Member has taken up painting. Though prison officials put a stop to him selling his artwork, several paintings still are listed as going for $100 plus $29 for shipping and handling through Traficant’s Web site, beammeupart.com.
According to his Web site, the 65-year-old ex-Member was recently chastised by prison authorities for purchasing too many stamps for his Christmas cards. He is slated to be released in September 2009.
But experts in the federal prison system, and ex-cons who have been there themselves, say that it would be misleading to think that Congressional felons are living the high life at a “Club Fed”-like facility, eating steak and lobster for dinner and spending their days on golf courses.