Focus: Found out, and found guilty. It's curtains for Martha Stewart

Furnishings and food, yes, but even she cannot sell lying as a designer choice, says David Usborne. And she can't do her show from a cell

When the verdicts came in - guilty on four counts - high-priced defence lawyer Robert Morvillo, who has the looks of a bit-part gangster in a Mafia movie, leaned into the ear of his client, the home-making superstar Martha Stewart, and whispered: "We have failed you. I am sorry."

It was a gracious apology at a moment of horrible calamity. But as Americans began yesterday to digest the news that Stewart, for more than a decade their country's undisputed arbiter of domestic taste, was actually going to go to prison, many were surely thinking something else. She had failed herself.

The spectacular fall from grace of Stewart, 62, whose media and franchising empire was until recently worth well over a billion dollars, will live on as an American parable not so much of the perils of greed, but of the certain punishment that comes when you stubbornly fail to tell the truth.

What she did, after all, seems almost piddling. It was on 27 December 2001 that she received word via her Merrill Lynch broker, and co-defendant at the trial, Peter Bacanovic, that the owner of a bio-tech company in which she had stock, and who was also a friend, was offloading his shares. He was doing so because he knew that the US government was not, as had been expected, going to give approval to a new drug which the company had developed.

She had been given an inside tip and she took advantage of it. She asked for her shares be sold too. The negative news did indeed come from the government the next day, and Stewart was surely pleased to know that she had saved herself about $50,000 (£27,000), even though that was loose change to her.

In her years appearing in television shows, presiding over magazines and books, Stewart developed the catchphrase "If you do that, it will be a good thing." But what she proceeded to do, as federal officials began to investigate the sale of her ImClone stock, was a bad thing. She, with the help of Bacanovic, covered up. She lied to investigators and made up stories.

And so it was that on Friday afternoon, after a trial that had lasted six weeks, the jury brought her down. She was found guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and two counts of making false statements. Bacanovic was similarly convicted of four counts but was acquitted on a fifth.

So what now? Stewart is first of all surely pondering her mistakes. Last year, for instance, she had the chance to plead guilty to the charges in a plea deal with the prosescution. Of course, her reputation would have taken a hit, but probably she would have escaped a term in prison

Both Mr Morvillo and Stewart have declared their intention to appeal against the convictions. They may do so, but most legal analysts have predicted that an appeal would fail. Almost every intervention during the trial by Judge Miriam Cedarbaum was in favour of the defence, they point out.

Stewart must report to the probation authorities within a week and then await a sentencing hearing on 17 June. While technically her convictions could carry a combined prison term of 20 years, it is more likely, under federal sentencing guidelines, that she will be sent away for between 15 months and 24 months. Nor will she be in a barred cell, but in the less intimidating setting of a low-security "white-collar" prison.

Meanwhile, she must watch as her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, copes with the devastating fallout of her conviction. Shares in the company dropped 23 per cent late on Friday and are likely to slide much further tomorrow. The brand of the company is Stewart. How, experts wondered, would it survive now that that brand meant "convicted felon"?

By yesterday, the CBS television station in New York had already pulled the plug on Stewart's daily cooking show. "If she goes to prison, the longer she's there, the harder the logistical problems for the company," said Linda Killian, a money manager at Renaissance Capital in Connecticut. "She can't do a cooking show from a cell."

Stewart is a polestar of American culture, the Delia Smith of not only cookery but also style. Few are the homes in America that have not dabbled with her recipes, do not have one of her books or magazines on the coffee table or some of her huge line of products from Kmart in their linen cupboards.

No wonder public opinion yesterday about her demise reflected a mixture of awe, glee and some real sadness. "Sometimes people get too powerful and it catches up with them," said Kay Clendaniel, 61, shopping in Chicago. "This was just greedy, that's all. How much money do you really need?"

But Alexis Handelman, who runs a bakery in Napa, California, belongs to the school that believes the authorities unfairly targeted Stewart because she is rich and famous. "I am heartbroken - I think they used her as an example," she said. "She's a tough businesswoman and people have trouble accepting that."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US