From the kitchen, to federal court and now to the court of public opinion, Martha Stewart makes her case in an open letter posted on a new website, Martha Talks, and in a paid advertisement in USA Today.
“I want you to know that I am innocent – and that I will fight to clear my name,” Stewart states in the letter, one day after a federal grand jury handed down a nine-count indictment for obstruction of justice, conspiracy, securities fraud and lying to investigators.
The charges surround Stewart’s sale of nearly 4,000 shares in biotech company ImClone Systems on Dec. 27, 2001, on the eve of an adverse ruling by the Food and Drug Administration that caused the stock price to plummet.
Stewart pleaded “not guilty” to all counts before a judge in Manhattan Federal Court.
Dubbed the “domestic diva,” Stewart built a multimillion-dollar retail and media empire out of a catering business. Following the indictment yesterday, she resigned as chairwoman and chief executive of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.
In the open letter addressed to “my friends and loyal supporters,” Stewart stressed the charges are “personal” and have nothing to do with the company.
“I simply returned a call from my stockbroker,” she explains. “Based in large part on prior discussions with my broker about price, I authorized a sale of my remaining shares in a biotech company called ImClone. I later denied any wrongdoing in public statements and in voluntary interviews with prosecutors. The government’s attempt to criminalize these actions makes no sense to me.”
The website links to a statement by Stewart’s attorneys, Robert Morvillo and John Tigue.
“Martha Stewart has done nothing wrong. The government is making her the subject of a criminal test case designed to further expand the already unrecognizable boundaries of the federal securities laws,” her attorneys assert.
Morvillo and Tigue question why the federal government chose to file charges after nearly a year and a half and accuse prosecutors of trying to “divert the public’s attention from its failure to charge the politically connected managers of Enron and WorldCom who may have fleeced the public out of billions of dollars.”
“Is it for publicity purposes because Martha Stewart is a celebrity? Is it because she is a woman who has successfully competed in a man’s business world by virtue of her talent, hard work and demanding standards? Is it because the government would like to be able to define securities fraud as whatever it wants it to be?,” continued the statement.
“Martha Stewart is being prosecuted not because of who she is but because of what she did,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney James Comey told reporters at a news conference yesterday.
Comey said the case was about Stewart’s “lies” to the SEC, the FBI and to her own investors.
If convicted, she faces up to 30 years in prison and a $2 million fine.
Peter Bacanovic, Stewart’s former broker at Merrill Lynch, was also indicted for allegedly tipping off Stewart that family members of ImClone founder Sam Waksal were planning to dump shares. Bacanovic also pleaded innocent.
Waksal, a longtime friend of Stewart, has already pleaded guilty to charges in the scandal and is slated to be sentenced next week.