Shkreli keeps his fans amid fraud trial

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - MISYRLENA EGKOLFOPOULOU

Martin Shkreli is a for­mer hedge fund man­ager, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal ex­ec­u­tive and a so­cial me­dia star. He gained in­famy by rais­ing the price of a po­ten­tially life-sav­ing drug by 5,000 per­cent, was sum­moned to ap­pear be­fore a gov­ern­ment com­mit­tee where he re­fused to speak and now is on trial fac­ing se­cu­ri­ties fraud charges.

While he’s deal­ing with a high-pro­file crim­i­nal trial that could end with him be­hind bars for 20 years, the brash man known as Pharma Bro is re­fus­ing to keep a low pro­file.

Shkreli in­ter­acts with his fol­low­ers on a daily ba­sis even though most de­fense at­tor­neys tell their clients to keep quiet dur­ing a trial.

Just 45 min­utes af­ter Shkreli left a Brook­lyn court on Tues­day, where his fraud trial is tak­ing place,

the 34-year-old was live on Face­book from his Man­hat­tan apart­ment. The song “The Fi­nal Count­down” played in the back­ground. Shkreli sat in front of his cam­era, opened a can of Coke, took a sip, and he was off.

“What’s up, haters?” he greeted his peers.

The com­ments started swarm­ing in and they were hardly hate­ful. “What’s up leg­end,” one user wrote. “Rock­star” and “Pharma-Bro!” oth­ers ex­claimed, and “Dude is my fav.” More than 18,000 peo­ple tuned in to hang out with Shkreli on his Face­book Live stream.

Shkreli has 80,000 Face­book friends and 66,000 YouTube sub­scribers. He may have been dubbed “the most hated man in Amer­ica” by some in the me­dia but even though he’s ac­cused of fraud, the so­cial me­dia celebrity has users turn­ing to him for fi­nan­cial ad­vice.

“How do I get the funds to start a busi­ness?” asked a young man, who called Shkreli’s cell­phone dur­ing the livestream. “Uh, it’s called in­vestors,” Shkreli re­sponded while play­ing with his cat, Trashy, on his lap.

Shkreli gave out his cell num­ber on his pro­file. When his fol­low­ers call, of­ten he’s po­lite, but at other times he’s ob­nox­ious, mock­ing peo­ple for what he thought were dumb ques­tions and some­times hang­ing up on them. Yet, his live-streams con­tinue to gather thou­sands of fol­low­ers.

Shkreli’s er­ratic and rel­a­tively flam­boy­ant be­hav­ior might be a fac­tor in his trial.

De­fense lawyer Ben­jamin Braf­man opened the trial with an ex­plo­sive speech, list­ing a series of names that his client had been la­beled with over the years, in­clud­ing “Rain Man” and “odd duck.” Then, Braf­man quoted pop-star Lady Gaga — not once, but twice.

“As Lady Gaga said, ‘He was born this way,’ and it has noth­ing to do with this trial,” Braf­man told ju­rors.

Braf­man could be build­ing a nar­ra­tive around Shkreli’s life on the In­ter­net that sig­nals to ju­rors it’s OK to be spir­ited, opin­ion­ated and con­fi­dent, like Lady Gaga, ac­cord­ing to Philip An­thony, chief ex­ec­u­tive of trial con­sult­ing firm De­ci­sionQuest.

“Cit­ing words from songs of

flam­boy­ant, fun, and con­fi­dent en­ter­tain­ers such as Lady Gaga pro­vide ju­rors an op­por­tu­nity to say to them­selves, “Other peo­ple whom I ad­mire from our com­mu­nity are just as out­spo­ken as this de­fen­dant, and I like them, there­fore maybe this de­fen­dant is OK too,” An­thony said.

Braf­man also quoted Lady Gage and her hit song Mil­lion Rea­sons.

“The gov­ern­ment’s go­ing to give you 100 mil­lion rea­sons to con­vict Mr. Shkreli,” Braf­man said. “I’m go­ing give you one good rea­son to ac­quit him.”

It’s com­mon for de­fense lawyers to at­tempt to com­pen­sate for neg­a­tive be­hav­ior on the part of their clients with a the­matic state­ment that will dif­fuse at­ten­tion away from the de­fen­dant, An­thony said.

It took three days to find a panel of ju­rors af­ter go­ing through more than 200 can­di­dates. Shkreli’s no­to­ri­ety for in­creas­ing the price of Dara­prim from $13.50 to $750 overnight led to the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion of many of the prospec­tive ju­rors. Even though his fraud trial has noth­ing to do with the price change, many had neg­a­tive opin­ions of Shkreli, call­ing him “an evil man,” “a snake,” and “the face of cor­po­rate greed in Amer­ica.”

The de­fense lawyer, the pros­e­cu­tion and U.S. District Judge Kiyo Mat­sumoto ul­ti­mately found a panel of 12 and six al­ter­nates. Af­ter care­fully ex­am­in­ing each in­di­vid­ual and ques­tion­ing them out­side the hear­ing of oth­ers, seven women and five men were cho­sen.

They in­clude: a hospi­tal worker, a re­tail soft­ware en­gi­neer, an elec­tron­ics en­gi­neer, a UPS driver, an em­ployee at the De­part­ment of Hu­man Re­sources, an em­ployee for the De­part­ment of Fi­nance, and a cou­ple of re­tirees.

As the trial be­gan on June 26, two Brook­lyn court­rooms were packed with re­porters from all over the world. Heleen Mees, a colum­nist for the Dutch news­pa­per de Volk­skrant, watched the trial on a closed-cir­cuit TV feed in an over­flow court­room. Euro­pean au­di­ences were also in­ter­ested, Mees said “be­cause of Shkreli’s in­famy with re­gard to U.S. drug prices, which are in­ex­pli­ca­bly high by Euro­pean stan­dards, even with­out Shkreli’s in­ter­ven­tions.”

“He drew un­wanted at­ten­tion to the U.S.’ dys­func­tional phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal mar­ket,” Mees said.

AP/MARK LEN­NI­HAN

Martin Shkreli (cen­ter) ar­rives at Brook­lyn fed­eral court with mem­bers of his le­gal team on June 19 in New York for a pre­trial con­fer­ence in his se­cu­ri­ties fraud trial.

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