By Anchor
updated 5/2/2005 7:34:56 PM ET 2005-05-02T23:34:56

At a glitzy red-carpet affair in New York City last month, Martha Stewart, named to Time magazine's list of most influential people, smiled for cameras even as she served five months of house arrest.

"I said, 'Are you going to go to it?'" remembers Stewart's friend and neighbor Richard Feigen. "She said, 'Yes.' I said, 'Do you have permission?'" She said, 'Yes, of course I do.'"

The gala was job-related,says Stewart, part of the 48 hours a week she's allowed away from her New York estate to shop for food, go to church and work.

Are these legitimate celebrity duties, or is it house arrest, VIP-style?

"Martha Stewart is coming very close to suggesting that her sense of home confinement is very different from everybody else's," says former federal prosecutor Robert Mintz.

Lori Trahan is a convicted felon who recently served a year and a half of house arrest — for embezzlement — in her one-bedroom apartment. Shackled to an ankle bracelet like Stewart's, she says she was denied anyoutside social events, not even a potluck dinner at Gamblers Anonymous. Her timesheets from that period show she rarely left her house.

"I think she's setting a very bad example for a lot of people who are going to put on that device who will think they can just go their merry way," says Trahan.

Fewer than 10 percent of federal offenders wind up on house arrest. Even fewer are well-known billionaires. Ask those sympathetic to Stewart if she's a special case, and their answer is — unapologetically — yes.

"Martha Stewart is not just a celebrity," says Eric Dezenhall, a crisis media consultant. "Her celebrity status is directly relevant to business, so she has to get out and demonstrate that she's back in the saddle."

Stewart's lawyers have even tried — unsuccessfully — to get her ankle bracelet cut off early, saying it's hurting business and her ankle.

And while she's busy restoring morale at her company — signing multimillion-dollar business deals and even developing a series for NBC — investigators are reportedly looking into comments she gave People magazine, in which she refers to taking long,hilly walks for exercise. If those are outside, they're notallowed.

Monday, Stewart's company issued a statement saying she is "allowed to attend work and personal matters during her allotted time" and "every event she attends is approved in advance by the probation office."

Lori Trahan sums it up best: "You have to follow the rules."

Good advice for a celebrity now out of the "big house" and finding ways to get out of another.

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