Remember Martin Shkreli? The Wall Street wunderkind rose to notoriety when he began buying up the rights to pharmaceuticals and hiking their prices into the stratosphere, including one needed to save the lives of infants suffering from toxoplasmosis and those dealing with HIV and other immune-system disorders. Most recently, Shkreli spent two million dollars in a winning bid to buy the only copy of the latest Wu-Tang Clan album, only to say he might get around listening to it later. Congress has held hearings about Shkreli’s price gouging; Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have used him as a poster boy for the ills of capitalism.
Now it’s the turn of the Securities and Exchange Commission to take on PharmaBro:
A boyish drug company entrepreneur, who rocketed to infamy by jacking up the priceof a life-saving pill from $13.50 to $750, was arrested on securities fraud related to a firm he founded.
Martin Shkreli, 32, ignited a firestorm over drug prices in September and became a symbol of defiant greed. The federal case against him has nothing to do with pharmaceutical costs, however. Prosecutors charged him with illegally taking stock from Retrophin Inc., a biotechnology firm he started in 2011, and using it pay off debts from unrelated business dealings. He was later ousted from the company, where he’d been chief executive officer, and sued by its board.
In the case that closely tracks that suit, federal prosecutors accused Shkreli of engaging in a complicated shell game after his defunct hedge fund, MSMB Capital Management, lost millions. He is alleged to have made secret payoffs and set up sham consulting arrangements.
Ironically, Shkreli had made headlines overnight for his intent to bail out someone else — a rapper accused of leading a violent Brooklyn street gang. The New York Daily News also ran a video story about a sexist remark Shkreli made about Taylor Swift:
The arrogant “pharma bro” who raised the price of a HIV medication by 5,000% now says he wants to bail out Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda, who allegedly was leading a violent street gang.
In a revealing interview with HipHopDX, Martin Shkreli says he would like to get Shmurda out of jail, plus he hurled a misogynistic comment at Taylor Swift suggesting he would trade sexual favors to let her get a first listen at Wu-Tang Clan’s one-of-a-kind album he paid $2 million for. …
“Forget whether you think he’s guilty or not, the guy should not be sitting in jail right now,” Shkreli told HipHopDX. “It’s insane. He’s from Brooklyn. I’m from Brooklyn. He deserves a fair trial. He deserves good lawyers. He doesn’t have good lawyers. His label is hanging him out to dry and so I have a conference call tomorrow morning with them.
“I’ll show up with $2 million bail money no f—— problem,” he continued. “He’s not going to flee the country. I’m not going to lose anything. I’m going to try to make that happen. That’s one thing I’m working on.”
Shkreli also discussed Wu-Tang Clan’s “Once Upon a Time in Shoalin” album, which he refuses to play on a live stream. When asked about sharing it, he said, laughing, “if Taylor Swift wants to come over and suck my d—, I’ll play it for her.”
Quite the charmer, eh? Shmurda had better not make plans for his coming-out party, as Shkreli may need to save that bail money for himself. The SEC action probably carries with it some significant restrictions on Shkreli’s assets too, so the days of wine and roses (and Taylor Swift fantasies) may have come to a screeching halt, at least for now.
But don’t think for a moment that the morality play in which Shkreli’s life is unfolding is over by any shot. First, the SEC has to prove its case, and that may not be easy. A trial would touch off a media frenzy, but most of these cases produce plea bargains, not courtroom dramas. If Shkreli gets convicted or pleads guilty, the people who have been using him as the reductio ad absurdum of capitalism will hail their vindication, but that won’t last long. Eventually the disgraced wunderkind will return as a penitent figure, perhaps working for charitable causes or (more likely) going on the motivational-speaking circuit after writing a memoir about his dissolution. With any luck, Robert Pattinson will play him in the movie that celebrates his excesses while pretending to wag a finger at them; they can call it The Weasel of Wall Street.
Or, maybe Shkreli beats the rap and richer than ever. That would simply be another kind of morality play, I guess.
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