Martha Stewart, 80, built an empire of homemaking knowledge that spanned from a magazine to several popular television shows. But after making her fortune under the Martha Stewart Living umbrella and becoming a household name, she ran afoul of the law and was ultimately indicted on charges obstruction of justice and securities fraud. Though she wound up only spending a matter of months there, the ordeal took her away from her true passion and threw a kink into her previous image of domestic perfection.
Here’s everything you need to know about the queen of homemaking’s time in jail, from the reasons she was indicted to the facility she stayed in. Most importantly, we’re taking you inside her comments on the whole debacle that put her behind bars in 2004.
Martha was busted for insider trading in 2001.
Back in 2001, at the height of her career, a then-60-year-old Martha was caught insider trading. According to the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), the popular TV personality abruptly sold nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone Systems stock based on insider information from her Merrill Lynch broker Peter Bacanovic. The stock value fell dramatically the day after her sale, according to her Wikipedia page.
The fallout was unfortunate, and included a memorable encounter with anchor Jane Clayson, who questioned Martha during what would normally have been a segment of homemaking pleasantries on CBS’s The Early Show. “I want to focus on my salad,” Martha quipped as she chopped greenery on the national program. Martha was eventually indicted on nine counts by the government, and the charges included obstruction of justice and securities fraud.
After a six-week trial in March 2004, a jury found Martha guilty of felony charges including lying to federal investigators, obstruction of an agency proceeding, and conspiracy to obstruct, per Wikipedia. In July of that same year, she was sentenced to five months in a federal facility and two years of supervised release with five months of electronic monitoring. She was also fined $30,000, among other harsh penalties imposed over a 2006 SEC civil case.
The famous businesswoman served her time in West Virginia.
Thought it was her last choice, Martha checked in to Federal Prison Camp (FPC) in Alderson, West Virginia, on October 8, 2004, to heavy media attention. She had hoped to serve her time out at Federal Correctional Institution, Danbury, or Federal Correctional Complex, Coleman. Martha reportedly took on the prison nickname of “M. Diddy” during her five months at the facility, per a 2005 CBS News report. She also held a job during her time at FPC and became somewhat of an informal go-between for the prison administration and inmates.
The domestic goddess was released after midnight on March 4, 2005, and per Biography, the confinement didn’t slow her down much. Her release came on the heels of an NBC announcement that she would host no fewer than two new shows, including a daytime talk show (Martha), and an Apprentice spinoff (The Apprentice: Martha Stewart). Both the latter and former premiered in September of 2005, and definitively proved that nothing could keep America’s domestic maven down.
Martha served two subsequent years of supervised release at her home in Bedford, New York, five months of which she was in home confinement with an electronic monitor.
Martha called her incarceration ‘horrifying.’
In October of 2017, Martha opened up to Katie Couric on the TODAY anchor’s podcast, calling it a “horrifying experience.” “It was horrifying, and no one — no one — should have to go through that kind of indignity, really, except for murderers, and there are a few other categories,” Martha told Katie. “But no one should have to go through that. It’s a very, very awful thing.”
When asked if she could at least chalk it up to a “growth experience,” Martha shot that down, unequivocally stating that there was nothing redeeming about it. “That you can make lemons out of lemonade?” she quipped. “What hurts you makes you stronger? No. None of those adages fit at all. It’s a horrible experience. Nothing is good about it, nothing.”
Perhaps worst of all, she lamented being separated from family. She had previously requested an alternative location in Connecticut or Florida so her then-90-year-old mother could visit during the incarceration but was instead sent to the remotely located facility in West Virginia. She also stated that she hated “being maligned … especially when one does not feel one deserves such a thing. I mean, I was not a bad person.”
Since the debacle, Martha has been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame (2018), and the Licensing International Hall of Fame (2020), among other professional achievements. She’s appeared on the Comedy Central Roasts of Bruce Willis (2018) and Justin Bieber (2015) and enjoyed an unexpected and highly entertaining friendship with iconic rapper Snoop Dogg.