Shkreli keeps his fans amid fraud trial
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.
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.