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Martha Stewart Comes Clean

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During our talk, Stewart is poised and in control, sitting with perfect posture in her office chair, never fidgeting. But there's nothing stiff about her. At 66, she's straightforward, occasionally blunt, often wry, with humor in her brown eyes and a youthfulness that may be in part a genetic blessing — she's always had terrific, glowing skin — but also comes from attitude, a buoyancy that has seen her through a spectacular public disgrace.

Some people might have banished themselves to a humiliated early retirement. But in the two and a half years since her release from Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia, where she spent five months for making false statements to government investigators about her role in the ImClone insider trading scandal, Stewart has jump-started her stalled company and moved forward full-throttle into a rich, packed, larger-than-life life. "I was ready to go the moment I stepped out of Alderson," she says. No momentary dip in self-confidence? No fleeting panic? "I've always been fearless," she says, and you believe her.

After prison came more than five months of house arrest at her 153-acre estate in Bedford, NY, during which Stewart wore an electronic ankle bracelet. By the end of the ordeal, she'd resigned as chairman and CEO of her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia (traded as MSO on the New York Stock Exchange), and — when MSO stock took a nosedive — lost hundreds of millions of dollars of her personal fortune. Her first TV show was canceled, and her face disappeared from the pages of Martha Stewart Living, the magazine she'd founded. "I will be back," she said, famously, standing on the courthouse steps just after being sentenced in July 2004.

Is she ever. Stewart has rebounded to a degree that perhaps only her fiercest fans believed she would. True, MSO reportedly hasn't turned an annual profit since 2002, the year her name was first publicly linked to the securities fraud investigation. Her version of The Apprentice, which aired six months after she was sprung from home confinement, failed after only 13 weeks on the air. And The Martha Stewart Show hasn't had stellar ratings. But it's been renewed for another year, and this spring earned five more Emmy nominations. MSO stock has held its own, and Stewart is still the driving force in the expanding company, though now her title is founder, not CEO. The number of advertising pages in Martha Stewart Living is climbing, and Stewart is a presence in the magazine once again, photographed squeezing a pastry tube and hanging framed maps on a wall in her Maine vacation home. Fans can listen all day to her Sirius satellite radio channel, read Blueprint (her new magazine for younger nesters), and find the answer to every conceivable domestic question in Martha Stewart's Homekeeping Handbook, an encyclopedic 744-page guide published last year.

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