September 16, 2004 in Business

Stewart: ‘I must reclaim my good life’

Erin Mcclam Staff writer
 
Associated Press photo

Martha Stewart pauses while speaking at a news conference at her offices in New York on Wednesday.
(Full-size photo)

NEW YORK — Even at a wrenching moment of surrender, Martha Stewart was — as always — under impeccable control.

Her announcement Wednesday that she would report to prison as soon as possible came in a light-bathed studio, before a brilliant backdrop of color swatches, perfectly choreographed for television. She lamented that she would miss her beloved pets — cats, dogs, horses, canaries and chickens — and hoped to be free in time for her cherished spring gardening.

“I must reclaim my good life,” the 63-year-old millionaire businesswoman declared. “I must return to my good works and allow those around me who work with me to do the same.” Her lawyers stressed that her appeal would proceed.

Speaking before a bank of cameras in a cavernous room that her company uses to test recipes and photograph products, Stewart said she hoped to end a period of “immense difficulty, immense sacrifice and immense agony” for herself and her media empire, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.

Shares in Martha Stewart Living rose 12 cents to close at $11.26 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock had been trading around $19 per share before Stewart’s name was tied to the scandal.

People close to the domestic entrepreneur said they expected her to report to prison — most likely to a facility in Danbury, Conn., near her home, or possibly in Florida — in a matter of weeks. Her lawyers have asked a federal judge to lift a stay that had been placed on her sentence while she appeals her guilty verdict on charges of lying to investigators about a 2001 stock sale.

After the five months in prison, Stewart still must serve five months of house arrest. She has said she will spend that time — during which she will be allowed to work — at her 153-acre horse-country estate north of New York City.

Her lawyers said they were confident a federal appeals court would eventually overturn the verdict, delivered by a New York jury in March.

But a delay motion filed by Peter Bacanovic, the former stockbroker convicted along with Stewart, means the case will not be argued until next year, and Stewart said she was acting to bring “finality” to a personal nightmare.

“The only way to reclaim my life and the quality of life for all those related to me with certainty now is to serve my sentence — surrender to the authorities so that I can quickly return as soon as possible to the life and the work that I love,” she said.

The 10-minute announcement was a striking example of Stewart’s trademark image: a tightly controlled one, of good taste, gracious living and self-discipline.

Stewart stood in front of a brilliant backdrop of more than 2,000 color swatches, and to her right was a dining table that looked as if it was about to be used for one of her television programs on entertaining. She was emotional at times, nearly crying at one point.

She spoke wistfully of how much she will miss holiday traditions and her pets — “my two beloved, fun-loving dogs, my seven lively cats, my canaries, my horses and even my chickens.”

“It’s odd what becomes of immense importance when one realizes when one’s freedom is about to be curtailed,” she said, “and it is frightening and difficult to have to grasp these realizations.”

Stewart added that she would like to be out of prison “as early in March as possible to plant a spring garden and to truly get things growing again.”

And she ended with a joke, mentioning how she was walking recently in Manhattan, was recognized by a group of men and heard the comment: “Oh, she’s out already.”

“I hope that my time goes as fast as that,” Stewart said. “I’ll see you next year.” As she walked off, disappearing behind a curtain without taking questions, employees of the company stood and applauded.

It remained unclear where, and precisely when, Stewart would serve her time.


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