Beauty queen turns to web in legal crisis

MINNEAPOLIS: Martha Stewart has become a trend-setter in an arena far from her usual home- decorating and cooking venues.

MINNEAPOLIS: Martha Stewart has become a trend-setter in an arena far from her usual home- decorating and cooking venues.

St. Paul, MN-based PR firm New School Communications has created a website to defend a local Minnesota celebrity against charges she committed Social Security fraud - emulating the approach Stewart took in creating a website to discuss her side of her legal affairs. Stewart's legal team developed her site along with crisis PR firm Citigate Sard Verbinnen shortly after the domestic diva was indicted in June on five criminal charges stemming from alleged insider trading.

Denise Henderson is a former Mrs. Minnesota International and Mrs. Iowa International. Her new website, www.thetruthaboutdee.com, debuted shortly after the local US attorney's office filed a civil suit against her in September, saying she wrongfully collected about $190,000 in Social Security disability benefits.

The site features Henderson's side of the story - that she was forced to close her consulting practice after a car accident -as told by her husband.

Blois Olson, president and CEO of New School, said that his firm has handled other legal affairs assignments, but this is the first in which it has created a defendant's website.

"They needed help in managing the media and a way of ensuring their side of the story was told," Olson said. "A website was a very cost-effective way to do that."

Yet Olson argues the site is not intended to influence potential jurors. "This is not targeted at any micro-audience," he said.

The agency decided to launch the website after the Minneapolis US attorney's office sent out a release on the case.

"That told us they were going to be aggressive with this," Olson said. "As prosecutors become more aggressive in the press, defense attorneys are going to need more ways to deal with that."

A spokesperson for the US attorney's office in Minneapolis said the office routinely issues press releases about newly filed cases.

Olson said the case has gotten local and regional coverage and was mentioned in US Senate discussion about Social Security fraud, so his client needed to respond in a forum that could reach a broad audience.

"The web is certainly cheaper than buying full-page ads in a newspaper to defend ourselves," he said.

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