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Martha Stewart Likens Self to Nelson Mandela

New York- After being hit with a fairly lenient 10-month sentence – half of it in home confinement – Martha Stewart had the chutzpah yesterday to compare herself to Nelson Mandela.

In an interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters, the diva said she was in the same boat as Mandela.

” … Getting rid of this bad, bad nightmare, is to me more important now after 2-1/2 years of a very Kafkaesque situation … ,” she told Walters.

“Because if it is looming ahead of me, I’m going to have to face it, and take it and do it and get it over with. And there’s many, many other people who have gone to prison. Look at Nelson Mandela – 27 years in prison.”

Her comments on ABC’s “2-0/20” capped a bizarre day that began with her sentencing, but quickly morphed into a prolonged campaign of damage control.

She performed a brief, rambling and at times strange monologue for live TV outside Manhattan Federal Courthouse, blaming prosecutors for pursuing her with “venom and gore” and begging consumers to buy her magazine and products.

“I’ll be back. I will be back. Whatever I have do in the next few months,” she promised. “I hope the months go by quickly. I’m used to all kinds of hard work and I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid whatsoever.”

She called her lies to the government a “small personal matter” that became “an almost fatal circus event,” asserting that she had been “choked and almost suffocated to death during that time.”

But her most provocative comments had to do with Mandela, the political prisoner for nearly three decades who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa.

“It’s sort of an egomaniacal point of view to put herself in the same category,” said Stephen Fink of Lexicon Communications. “To even mention Martha Stewart in the same sentence is the height of hypocrisy.”

In issuing the 10-month sentence, Manhattan Federal Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum offered both compassion and disappointment.

She noted that “our regulatory agencies cannot function if fabrication and dishonesty are tolerated,” but she also stated, “I believe that you have suffered and will continue to suffer enough.”

Five months of her sentence will be spent at a minimum security federal penitentiary; the other five months will be served in home confinement at her Bedford, N.Y., estate.

That was at the bottom range of the 10 to 16 months set by federal guidelines, but above the probation Stewart sought. The judge also imposed a $30,000 fine.

Cedarbaum also let Stewart remain free until her appeal is resolved, which probably won’t occur for a year. That means Stewart won’t have to celebrate her 63rd birthday next month inside a prison cell.

It also allowed an unrepentant Stewart to walk out of court and immediately launch a damage-control campaign.

But her “clear Martha” campaign had begun Thursday, with a defiant four-page letter Stewart personally penned to Judge Cedarbaum completely denying wrongdoing.

In that letter, Stewart said she had a legitimate reason to dump her 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems stock on Dec. 27, 2001, just before it tanked.

“I sold my remaining shares of ImClone not because I had inside information, not because I was secretly tipped, but because I set a price, made a profit, and knew I could always reinvest if I wanted to,” she wrote.

“To believe that I sold because [ImClone founder] Sam [Waksal] was trying to sell is so very, very wrong,” she wrote.

That letter also took aim at Waksal, calling him “a bit crazy,” a man who “got caught up in a lifestyle neither my daughter nor I were attracted to, spending more than he earned, running about, not waiting until his success was ‘real.'”

That letter to the judge was killed by her lawyers and replaced by a watered-down version stating that Stewart “never intended to harm anyone and I am dreadfully sorry that the perception of my conduct has caused my family, my friends and especially my beloved company so much damage.”

The campaign continued in court, where she began her day on shaky ground. She was, after all, speaking to Cedarbaum directly for the first time, and in a quavering voice verging on tears, she began, “Today is a shameful day.”

But as her confidence grew, she almost seemed to challenge the judge, asking her to “consider all the intense suffering that I and so many dear others have endured every single moment of the past 2-1/2 years.”

Assistant District Attorney Karen Patton Seymour saw things differently, noting the “broad implications” of repeatedly lying to federal agents investigating a crime.

Stewart will be allowed to work at her company, but she cannot be an officer. Yesterday the company stood by its founder as news of the sentence actually pumped up MSO’s stock price 37%.

Outside court, Stewart emerged to a cheer from her supporters, who applauded her though they couldn’t hear a word she said.

Then it was off to meet Walters, confiding that she couldn’t wait to sip sake last night at one of her favorite Manhattan Japanese restaurants.


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