Beyond the Spin: Vick's second chance isn't up to the Stewart standard

Posted: August 27, 2009

The Martha Stewart brand is affixed to everything from cooking shows to magazines. So it was surprising when Stewart, a former stockbroker, was charged with risking millions of dollars and her carefully crafted reputation on a trading scheme that saved her about $50,000.

According to the federal indictment of Stewart, Merrill Lynch broker Peter Bacanovic represented both Stewart and Samuel Waksal, the CEO of ImClone. On Dec. 27, 2001, upon learning that the Food and Drug Administration would not approve ImClone's treatment for colorectal cancer, Waksal and his family ordered Merrill to sell their ImClone shares.

Within minutes of learning this, according to the indictment, Bacanovic called Stewart. A few hours later, Stewart called back, learned of the planned Waksal sale, and ordered that her ImClone shares be sold. They sold that day for about $230,000. The next day, ImClone announced the FDA decision, and its stock declined by about 20 percent - which would have cost Stewart around $50,000.

After a five-week trial, Stewart was convicted of conspiracy, obstruction, and lying to investigators. She was sentenced to five months in prison; two years of supervised release, including five months of home confinement during which she would be monitored via ankle bracelet; and a $30,000 fine.

After her time at the Anderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia, a minimum-security facility for women affectionately known as Camp Cupcake, Stewart was released shortly after midnight on March 4, 2005. An awaiting SUV took her to a nearby airport, where a private jet whisked her off to Westchester County in New York.

Stewart chose to serve the home confinement at her 153-acre estate in Bedford, N.Y. Her other luxurious homes, in the Hamptons and off the coast of Maine, would have to wait. But she was glad to be home - any home - after her time behind bars.

Once freed of her shackles, instead of being scorned as a convicted felon, Martha Stewart was given, well, the Martha Stewart treatment.

Donald Trump created a new television show, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. Stewart resumed her position at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, with compensation of about $2 million in 2007. She also gets $2 million a year for letting her company tape shows at one of her homes.

Stewart's post-prison activities have also included hosting her show, releasing books, launching a housewares line for Macy's, developing a weekly satellite radio show, partnering with the Gallo family on a wine brand, offering a line of foods for Costco, and creating a line of Wal-Mart items. Since her sentencing, her company's stock price has more than quadrupled.

Two years ago today, Michael Vick pleaded guilty to operating "Bad Newz Kennels," a dogfighting ring based in Virginia. The ring shot or electrocuted dogs that performed poorly.

Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison. He served 18 months at the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., an old, medium-security facility that once housed gangster George "Machine Gun" Kelly and Al Capone rival George "Bugs" Moran.

Like Martha Stewart, Michael Vick did five months of home confinement. After his time in Leavenworth, he stayed with his fiancee and their children in a five-bedroom, 3,500-square-foot brick house in Hampton, Va. He was forced to wear an electronic monitor as he reported to his $10-an-hour construction job.

Vick, the first African American quarterback taken first overall in the NFL draft, signed a contract in 2001 worth $130 million over 10 years. It was revoked upon his conviction. In 2006, Sports Illustrated estimated he was earning $25.4 million annually hawking products for Coca-Cola, Nike, and others, but his endorsements fizzled long before his dogfighting woes. His finances were also hurt by out-of-control spending and questionable advisers.

Today in Philadelphia, Vick is expected to make his first NFL appearance since his plea. The Eagles recently signed him to a contract for $1.6 million for the first year, with a second-year option for $5.2 million, plus up to $3 million in incentives. Creditors are lined up to collect their shares.

Vick filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last year, listing assets of less than $50 million and debts of $10 million to $50 million. As part of his reorganization plan, he would give up three of his six homes in Virginia.

Although he is working with the Humane Society, Vick is dogged by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, members of which taunt him in public. Some animal-rights activists promise to protest at Eagles games and erect billboards vilifying Vick. Undoubtedly, he is not getting the Martha Stewart treatment.


George Curry can be contacted at gcurry@phillynews.com.

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