July 16 marks the anniversary of Martha Stewart being sentenced to prison. [“Martha Stewart’s Sentence,” New York Times, 7/17/04].
I will never forget it.
As a member of Congress, I attended dozens of town hall meetings at senior centers. My favorite incident was at a senior center was when an elderly man blamed me for sending Martha Stewart to prison.
By way of background, in 2004, Martha Stewart, the well-known TV personality and author, had a highly publicized trial and the New York Times reported was found guilty of a felony regarding statements she allegedly made about a stock trading deal.
She served five months in a federal prison in West Virginia. Her nickname in prison was M. Diddy. Shortly after M. Diddy was sentenced, I held a senior citizen town hall meeting in Lake County, Florida.
At the meeting, an elderly gentleman, who appeared to be about ninety years old, slowly walked up to the microphone.
Senior: “Congressman, I’m so mad at you! I can hardly see straight!”
Me: “Oh man, what did I do?” (I had to smile.)
Senior: “The way you put Martha Stewart in jail!”
Me: “Wait. What? Me?” (I had never even met Martha Stewart.)
Senior: “All these violent criminals are on the loose. And you guys are going after this poor lady? You should be ashamed of yourselves!”
Me: “Anything else?” (I let elderly people talk as long as they want.)
Senior: “I’m just getting started.”
Me: “Okay. Go ahead.”
Senior: “Just leave her alone. It’s a waste of taxpayer money. Now I’m done.”
Me: “Thank you, sir. There are three branches of government. I’m in the legislative branch. I didn’t have anything to do with Martha Stewart’s criminal prosecution. It’s the other branches of government that handle this.”
Senior: “Oh, you’re all in it together. One big government. You know it, and I know it!” (Clearly, it was time for me to throw in the towel.)
Me: “Sir, it won’t happen again.”
Senior: “Now that’s what I’m talking about! Thank you!”
Me: “You’re welcome.”
I kept my “promise.” Martha Stewart never went back to prison. “And that’s a good thing,” to quote the icon.
Ric Keller is an attorney, former U.S. Congressman, and author of “Chase the Bears: Little Things to Achieve Big Dreams.” When he was in office representing Florida's 8th Congressional District, we wrote about him quite a lot. Once, we even endorsed him!