But Stewart's troubles aren't over. Sources close to the congressional investigation of Stewart tell Time that a new line of inquiry is focusing on a close friend of hers, Dr. Bart Pasternak, who sold 10,000 shares of ImClone at about the same time she made her sale. Meanwhile, Merrill Lynch broker Peter Bacanovicwhose clients included Stewart as well as her friend Sam Waksal, the former ImClone CEO recently arrested on insider-trading chargeswas placed on leave along with his assistant. Merrill, which earlier praised Bacanovic, said an internal investigation "raised factual issues regarding a client transaction."
That transaction, sources say, was the sale of Stewart's ImClone stock. Stewart and Bacanovic have denied insider trading, saying they had an oral agreement to sell ImClone if it fell to $60; her shares were sold at $58. But Merrill has found no evidence to support claims of such an agreement. Stewart and her lawyers declined to comment on this development, and Bacanovic was unavailable. Bacanovic gave Merrill executives an undated printout of Stewart's holdings with "$60" penciled in by the ImClone entry, but Merrill, according to one source, has evidence that something other than the price triggered the trade. Merrill reported its findings to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney.
The sale by Pasternak, a vascular surgeon who practices in Westport, Conn., came on Dec. 27 or 28, according to a source close to the congressional investigation. It was on Dec. 27 that Stewart sold her nearly 4,000 shares. What has caught the attention of investigators is that on Dec. 27, Stewart was traveling with Pasternak's estranged wife Mariana, a real estate broker. While she and Stewart were on the ground in San Antonio, Texas, en route to Mexico on Stewart's private jet, Stewart phoned Bacanovic to sell her shares and then tried to reach Waksal. Investigators are trying to learn whether Mariana Pasternak had contact that day with her husband, also a friend of Waksal's. Neither of the Pasternaks returned calls.
Investigators want to know whom else Bacanovic spoke with that day, and they have sent a letter to Merrill asking for Bacanovic's client list, phone log, e-mail and records of trades of ImClone. Dr. Pasternak held 100,000 shares at the time of his sale; he told investigators he sold his remaining 90,000 shares in January, a source said.
Ken Johnson, spokesman for the House committee looking into the ImClone stock sales, confirmed that investigators have interviewed Dr. Pasternak, and said they are trying to set up a meeting with Mariana Pasternak. They were scheduled to question Bacanovic this week, but he is seeking new counsel. "As the coincidences pile up," says Johnson, "the possibility that no one knew anything goes way down."
The charges against Waksal stem from his attempt to sell $4.9 million of ImClone stock on Dec. 27. He learned on Dec. 26 that the company's application for the cancer drug Erbitux was going to be denied review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administrationnews that the company made public after the markets closed on Dec. 28. He is also accused of tipping off his daughter Aliza, who sold $2.5 million of ImClone, and his father Jack, who sold $6.7 million of the stock ahead of the FDA news. Only Waksal has been charged; he denies wrongdoing.
In an odd twist, Stewart's syndicated TV show on Thursday aired a rerun of an April 2000 episode featuring Stewart cooking gumbo with Representative Billy Tauzin, the Louisiana Republican who, with G.O.P. Representative James Greenwood of Pennsylvania, is leading the committee investigating her. Stewart's office called Tauzin to be sure he knew the show was running. Stewart said the airing was "a matter of course." Her spokesperson said notifying Tauzin was "routine." It's the only thing about this saga that is.