Martha Stewart may face jail over shares sale

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The Independent US

Martha Stewart, whose name is synonymous in America with home design and affordable gracious living, may soon be trading her salad servers for handcuffs after an admission from her company yesterday that she is facing criminal charges in a long- running insider trading case.

The style maven, who rose to fame and fortune with books, magazines and syndicated television shows, could be charged today. Her lawyers indicated she would plead innocence.

Ms Stewart's holding company, Martha Stewart Omnimedia, released the news before the start of an annual general meeting of shareholders in Manhattan. Ms Stewart, 61, its chief executive officer and chairwoman, did not attend.

The case centres on Ms Stewart's friendship with Sam Waksal, the disgraced former head of a biotech company named ImClone. Mr Waksal pleaded guilty last year to selling shares in ImClone in December 2001, one day before federal regulators refused a licence for a cancer drug it was developing.

Investigators have been trying to establish whether Mr Waksal, who will be sentenced next week, also tipped off some of his friends about the impending setback, Ms Stewart among them.

The same day, she sold 4,000 shares in the company worth $225,000 (£138,000). She claimed she had arranged with her broker to offload the ImClone shares if their price fell below a certain level.

Her lawyers made a last effort to forestall charges by trying to recruit help from senior Department of Justice officials in Washington last week. But attempts to secure meetings with them were refused.

There was no word from prosecutors in Manhattan about likely charges, but they may concern only obstruction of justice rather than more serious insider trading. But she could still face prison.