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The Great Salmon Rose Caper

September 20, 2002|JONATHAN TURLEY | Jonathan Turley is a constitutional law professor at George Washington University.

After months of congressional hearings and investigation, Martha Stewart now appears at real risk of federal indictment. Last week, Congress referred her case to the Justice Department with a request for a criminal probe, and a critical witness has contradicted her account. What is curious is that no one has called me to testify despite the fact that I have sought to reveal her fraudulent conduct for years.

My encounter with Stewart occurred in 1990 at a baby shower for a friend of my wife. Well actually, it was not Stewart but her best-selling cookbook, and my wife was then my girlfriend. I was called in to assist Leslie in a crunch to prepare a vital dish for the shower. As a male interloper, I was secreted in the kitchen with a towering pile of sliced salmon and Stewart's instruction for making "salmon roses." Leslie placed the step-by-step instructions before me and a picture of the final product, a delicate rose made of a formerly living creature.

I have never been more focused on a project in my life. With a beer and a prayer, I set out to join the culinary and horticultural worlds in a masterpiece of flowering fish. I proceeded to attempt salmon rose after salmon rose, only to produce grotesque and disturbing figures. While one salmon glob looked strikingly like Abraham Lincoln, none looked even remotely like a rose. My cursing and slamming in the kitchen grew with each failure. I sat in the kitchen with 10 pounds of contorted salmon and looked at that picture of a smiling Stewart and her demonic salmon rose.

It was then that I realized Martha Stewart is not just a fraud but quite possibly the antichrist. There was no way that a human could construct a rose out of salmon. I was overtaken by conspiracy theories ranging from photo enhancement to plastic salmon-colored roses. Getting a grip on myself, I finally concluded that Stewart had placed a large fish on a lathe and crafted a 2-ounce rose out of a 20-pound salmon.

This experience in some ways may explain the current public reaction to the Stewart investigation. Countless people have told me that they want to see Stewart trussed up, tried and served. People spontaneously present the evidence for the prosecution at parties and meetings. Could they all be victims of the salmon rose scam? It is actually more difficult to construct an insider-trading case than a salmon rose. First and foremost, it requires knowledge and intent to use nonpublic insider information to achieve a market benefit.

While she denies this account, Stewart reportedly decided to dump her stock after her broker told her that ImClone founder Samuel Waksal was selling his stock. If she only knew of the sale and not the reason (an unannounced regulatory ruling against ImClone's wonder drug, Erbitux), the case falls short of an insider-trading case.

In reality, Stewart may face a more serious threat from alleged disclosures last week that she fabricated the entire story after the fact--the basis of a possible obstruction-of-justice charge. Douglas Faneuil, an assistant to Stewart's stockbroker, has reportedly stated that, contrary to what Stewart said, there was never an agreement to sell ImClone stock if it fell below $60.

The problem for Stewart is that, unlike insider trading, the necessary intent for obstruction of justice is largely proved by the evidence of participation in such a concocted story.

Ultimately there may be nothing more to this scandal than Stewart's knack for using discarded things for profit. Perhaps, after seeing Waksal dump his shares faster than holiday fruitcake, she did what she always does: She made something out of it. It is the same irresistible impulse that drives her to make centerpieces out of discarded dental floss.

While Stewart whips up a criminal defense, I plan to move on. That brings me back to the salmon.

After I realized that I had been taken in by a culinary fish story, I rushed to complete my task. As the guests were leaving, I emerged triumphant from the kitchen with my own signature dish: the salmon knot.

It will be featured this week in my new publication, Jonathan Turley Living.

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