The fate of Martin Shkreli is now with the jury.
After five weeks of testimony and examinations, lawyers made closing arguments Thursday and Friday, and the jury began deliberating this morning on Shkreli’s case. The ex-pharmaceutical CEO stands accused of eight counts of securities and wire fraud, and he faces up to 20 years in prison. Like most things involving Shkreli, who became infamous for raising the price of a life-saving drug by more than 5,000 percent, the trial has been raucous and unusual.
Prosecutors made straight-laced arguments in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, alleging that Shkreli ran a Ponzi-like scheme where he defrauded investors of two hedge funds he managed and siphoned millions from a pharmaceutical company he founded, Retrophin, to cover massive losses from those funds. For closing arguments, prosecutors had a stack of 33 binders on their table as they went through a PowerPoint presentation, The New York Times reports. The defense, on the other hand, brought props, wild tales, colorful questions, hints at office romance, and an unusual defense: that Shkreli—who’s allegedly brilliant, well-intentioned, but awkward—may have lied about some things but ultimately paid everyone back and more.
Shkreli, for his part, brought trash-talk and pointed facial expressions.
Lies and BS
As federal prosecutors laid out evidence that Shkreli had told “lies upon lies” to hedge fund investors—ultimately informing many of them after lengthy delays that the investments had transformed into Retrophin stock—they argued that Shkreli was nothing more than a con man.
“He is calculating,” Assistant US Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis told the jury Friday, The Washington Post reports. “It is not just the sheer volume of lies. It is the kind of lies. Mr. Shkreli is a smart man, he knew exactly what he was doing, he intended to deceive and intended to defraud.”
Shkreli’s lead lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, responded. “On paper, yeah, you know what? Doesn’t look great.” But, he argued, Shkreli was “one of the most brilliant minds of his generation,” and Brafman warned jurors that they should think carefully “before you snuff that out” with a felony charge.
During testimony, Brafman brought out colorful conversations involving employees and investors, questioning their intentions and whether they were victims. He repeatedly made the point that Shkreli’s affluent investors ended up making substantial profits. For instance, Steven Richardson, a hedge fund investor who became a personal mentor to Shkreli, reported that his initial $400,000 hedge fund investment turned into Retrophin shares now worth $1.9 million. During testimony, it became clear that Richardson’s relationship with Shkreli had also veered toward the romantic.
Darren Blanton, who Brafman noted was a so-called “cowboy investor,” cashed out $2.6 million dollars’ worth of Retrophin stock and still has more than 100,000 shares from an initial $1.25 million investment. Another investor, Schuyler Marshall, made a profit but admitted he couldn’t remember how much it was. “You have no recollection of whether you made $40,000, $100,000 or $370,000?” Brafman asked him during cross-examination. He didn’t, evidently.
In closing arguments, Brafman argued that these were unsympathetic elites who were not ultimately injured by Shkreli’s actions—a case of “rich people BS,” as Brafman put it concisely in court, according to CNBC.
Myth or con?
Further, Brafman argued, Shkreli worked tirelessly to make Retrophin a success to ensure his investors made hefty profits. “You don’t have him on the beach, or a yacht. He was in a sleeping bag in his office so he can build a company. Martin never intended to defraud anyone,” Brafman said according to New York Business Journal. He could have walked away, Brafman said.
In his closing arguments, Brafman brought props, including a bag of chips and a poster with “WHERE ARE THESE WITNESSES?” written on it. He made a last effort to convince the jury that Shkreli is simply a socially awkward genius who never intended to defraud his investors—investors who ended up making handsome profits.
Prosecutors struck at this last point. “If you rob a bank, then you rob another bank to pay back the first bank, you still robbed the first bank,” Kasulis said. “You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. Just because the defendant got lucky and Retrophin became a success years later… it doesn’t excuse fraud.”
She also hit back at Brafman’s questioning of whether Shkreli’s rich investors were victims. “There is no ‘rich person’ exception to the law. That’s insulting,” Kasulis said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor.” In the end, Kasulis accused Brafman of promoting “the Myth of Martin Shkreli” as a brilliant and well-intentioned individual.
For his part, Shkreli sat by Brafman and made faces, smirking at the characterizations during closing arguments, according to CNBC. Shkreli had been gagged by US District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto after he strolled into a courthouse room packed with journalists during a lunch break and proceeded to bash the prosecutors and witnesses. The gag order kept Shkreli quiet around the courthouse, but not on social media, the Post notes.
An hour after leaving court last Thursday, Shkreli took to Facebook to sum up his thoughts on the trial and his fate. Taking a Trumplike position, he wrote:
“My case is a silly witch hunt perpetrated by self-serving prosecutors. Thankfully my amazing attorney sent them back to junior varsity where they belong. Drain the swamp. Drain the sewer that is the DOJ. MAGA [Make America Great Again]”