‘Is he strange? Yes’: lawyer for ‘Pharma bro’ Shkreli tells court he’s a weird, dysfunctional genius

Prosecutors accuse Shkreli of being a conman, starting a new hedge fund to pay off the losses of another and lying to investors along the way

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 10:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 June, 2017, 10:04am

Martin Shkreli is odd, his attorney told a federal court on Wednesday. The former hedge fund manager’s investors and colleagues made fun of him behind his back and wondered whether he was autistic. Some questioned his sexuality, the jury was told.

“Is he strange? Yes. Will you find him weird? Yes,” said Shkreli’s attorney Benjamin Brafman. “But they [his investors] used his genius and made millions ... despite his flaws and dysfunctional personality, Martin Shkreli is brilliant beyond words.”

Shkreli, the so-called “Pharma bro” best known for raising the price of Daraprim - a 62-year-old drug primarily used to treat newborns and HIV patients - from US$13.50 to US$750 a pill, went on trial Wednesday for allegedly defrauding investors. After struggling for more than two days to seat a jury, Shkreli’s attorney spoke directly to the Brooklyn native’s reputation as the worst of Wall Street.

“As Lady Gaga would say: He was born this way,” Brafman said.

He [convinced investors] that he was a Wall Street genius. In reality, he was just a conman
G. Karthik Srinivasan, an assistant US attorney-general, on Martn Shkreli

Federal prosecutors alleged that for five years Shkreli lied to investors in two hedge funds and biopharmaceutical company Retrophin, all of which he founded. After losing money on stock bets he made through one hedge fund, Shkreli allegedly started another and used his new investors’ money to pay off those who had lost money on the first fund. Then, as pressure was building, Shkreli started Retrophin, which was publicly traded, and used cash and stock from that company to settle with other disgruntled investors, prosecutors contend.

Shkreli repeatedly lied to investors, shareholders and the board of Retrophin to cover up his losses, prosecutors said Wednesday.

“Telling lies, on top of lies. This is what that man, Martin Shkreli, did for years,” said G. Karthik Srinivasan, an assistant attorney general in the Eastern District Court in Brooklyn.

Shkreli told investors that he had a successful track record as a hedge fund manager and sent them false performance reports: “That was a lie,” Srinivasan said. “He did this by convincing them [investors] that he was a Wall Street genius. In reality, he was just a conman.”

The trial got off to a slow start as lawyers struggled to seat an impartial jury. Over three days, more than 250 prospective candidates were dismissed for their views of the defendant.

One juror said Wednesday: “The only thing I would be impartial about is which prison he goes to.” Another said he didn’t like Shkreli and “I don’t understand why someone would take a medication that people need and jack up the price.” The potential jurors voice was shaking as he turned to Shkreli and raised his fist. “I would just go over there . . . is he just stupid or crazy?,” the potential juror said.

“He is probably guilty and there is no way I can let him slide,” a third potential juror said. He then added that he didn’t like that Shkreli had been disrespectful to the Wu Tang Clan. Shkreli purchased the only known copy of a Wu Tang Clan album for US$2 million and didn’t release parts of the album until after US President Donald Trump was elected.

Brafman told the jury of seven women and five men that they had to look beyond Shkrel’s reputation.

“You can’t convict him for the people skills he lacked,” he said. “If you want to call him names, call him names, just don’t call him guilty.”

When Brafman finished speaking, Shkreli stood and hugged him.