Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Convicted 'Pharma Bro' has image problem, lawyer concedes

Published:Sunday | August 6, 2017 | 8:00 AM
Martin Shkreli, left, talks with reporters while standing next to his attorney Benjamin Brafman after leaving federal court in New York, Friday, August 4, 2017. The former pharmaceutical CEO has been convicted on federal charges and awaits sentencing. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Martin Shkreli, the eccentric former pharmaceutical CEO notorious for a price-gouging scandal and for his snide 'Pharma Bro' persona on social media, was convicted Friday on federal charges he deceived investors in a pair of failed hedge funds.

A Brooklyn jury deliberated five days before finding Shkreli guilty on three of eight counts. He had been charged with securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Shkreli, upbeat and defiant outside court afterwards, called his prosecution "a witch hunt of epic proportions" but conceded that maybe the government had found "one or two broomsticks."

Asked about his client's social-media antics, attorney Ben Brafman said it was something they would be working on.

"There is an image issue that Martin and I are going to be discussing in the next few days," he said, adding that while Shkreli was a brilliant mind, sometimes his "people skills" need work. As he spoke, Shkreli smiled and cocked his head quizzically in mock confusion.

Brafman predicted that Shkreli would someday go on to develop cures to terrible diseases that afflict children.

Prosecutors had accused Shkreli of repeatedly misleading investors about what he was doing with their money. Mostly, he was blowing it with horrible stock picks, forcing him to cook up a scheme to recover millions in losses, they said.

Shkreli, 34, told "lies upon lies", including claiming he had US$40 million in one of his funds at a time when it only had about US$300 in the bank, Assistant US Attorney Alixandra Smith said in closing arguments. The trial "has exposed Martin Shkreli for who he really is - a con man who stole millions," added another prosecutor, Jacquelyn Kasulis.

 

TRICKY CASE

 

But the case was tricky for the government because investors who testified said Shkreli's scheme actually succeeded in making them richer, in some cases doubling or even tripling their money on his company's stock when it went public.

"Who lost anything? Nobody," Brafman said in his closing argument. Some investors had to admit on the witness stand that partnering with Shkreli was "the greatest investment I've ever made," he added.

For the boyish-looking Shkreli, one of the biggest problems was not part of the case his purchase in 2014 of rights to a life-saving drug that he promptly raised the price from US$13.50 to US$750 per pill. Several potential jurors were kept off the panel after expressing disdain for the defendant, with one calling him a "snake" and another "the face of corporate greed."

The defendant also came into the trial with a reputation for trolling his critics on social media to a degree that got him kicked off Twitter and for live-streaming himself giving math lessons or doing nothing more than petting his cat, named Trashy. Among his other antics: boasting about buying a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album for US$2 million.

Shkreli, who comes from an Albanian family in Brooklyn, was arrested in 2015 on charges he looted another drug company he founded, Retrophin, of US$11 million in stock and cash to pay back the hedge fund investors. Investors took the witness stand to accuse Shkreli of keeping them in the dark as his scheme unfolded.

Shkreli didn't testify. But rather than lay low like his lawyers wanted, he got into the act by using Facebook to bash prosecutors and news organisations covering his case. In one recent post, he wrote, "My case is a silly witch hunt perpetrated by self-serving prosecutors. ... Drain the swamp. Drain the sewer that is the (Department of Justice)".

No sentencing date was set. After agreeing to continue Shkreli's US$5 million bail, the judge told him: "I wish you well, Mr Shkreli. See you soon."

- AP