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Consumer Reports

FBI surfs Martha Stewart's Web site for incriminating evidence | (KRT) Martha mavens aren't the only ones checking out Martha Stewart's spiffy new Web site - the FBI is peeking too.

Sources told the NY Daily News that federal prosecutors and FBI agents have been monitoring for juicy tidbits, watching for things that could be used against her in court.

Most of what Stewart says on the site is general in nature, but in a section called Setting the Record Straight, she lists six fact-specific statements that she says clarify the truth about her criminal indictment.

The statements were vetted by her veteran criminal defense lawyers, Robert Morvillo and Jack Tigue. Neither returned calls seeking comment Wednesday.

One statement focuses on one of the most damning bits of evidence against her - the allegation that she altered a phone log about a conversation with her broker Dec. 27, 2001, when she sold 4,000 shares of ImClone stock.

That alteration is at the heart of the case. Yet on her Web site, she doesn't deny it - she confirms it.

The statement starts off, "Martha did NOT produce an inaccurate telephone log to government investigators."

It continues, "The government acknowledges that she `temporarily' made changes to the log and then `directed her assistant to return the message to its original wording.'"

Spokesmen for the FBI's New York office and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Jim Comey declined to comment.

Stewart isn't the first white-collar defendant to use the media to try to win public support. In the Adelphia case, members of the Rigas family went on TV and gave newspaper interviews before their trial.

Using a Web site is relatively new, and several defense lawyers said they thought it was an unusual gamble for Stewart's attorneys.

Gerald Shargel, a veteran defense lawyer, said, "This is very unusual, if not unprecedented. Obviously, they're trying to exploit Martha's popularity."

Shargel declined to criticize the strategy, although he did say, "These points were very carefully crafted by very good lawyers, but having said that, it's a bold move."

Other defense lawyers privately speculated that Stewart could have a second reason for the Web site - using it to gather information on potential jurors.

The Web site has been soliciting e-mails - 50,000 as of Wednesday - that could be used to analyze who'd make a good juror.

This kind of jury testing is relatively new, with some law firms hiring pollsters before big trials to find out what people think of a defendant.

The problem with jury testing is it often raises questions about tainting - shaping a potential juror's opinion ahead of time.

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© 2003, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services