Martin Shkreli is set to begin his trial for securities fraud. Here is a look at his rise to notoriety.
NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors Monday asked a judge to muzzle so-called “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli for the balance of his ongoing conspiracy and fraud trial.
Raising concern that Shkreli’s in-person and social media criticism and statements about the case risk “tainting the jury,” prosecutors asked U.S. District Court Judge Kiyo Matsumoto to limit Shkreli’s statements outside the Brooklyn courtroom.
As an alternative, prosecutors sought semi-sequestration of the 18 jurors and alternates who were seated last week, in a bid to keep them from hearing and potentially being influenced by any of his comments.
Shkreli prompted the motion last week by making a surprise visit to a courtroom where reporters and the public could view the trial via closed-circuit video and argued that prosecution witness Sarah Hassan was not a “victim” of the alleged fraud. He also ridiculed prosecutors as a “junior varsity” team.
“Unfortunately, despite the assurances of defense counsel prior to trial — as well as effort by defense counsel to control Shkreli — once the jury was selected and empaneled Shkreli embarked on a campaign of disruption by commenting on trial evidence and witnesses to the press and on social media, and by making a spectacle of himself and the trial directly on the courthouse grounds,” prosecutors Jacquelyn Kasulis, Alixandra Smith and G. Karthik Srinivasan wrote.
“The government is deeply concerned that Shkreli’s statements about the evidence at trial at trial and his personal views of that evidence in the courthouse itself — which are then repeated by other individuals in the courthouse — will inadvertently be overheard by members of the jury during their breaks, and render a fair trial impossible.”
The legal motion represents a potential new snag for a case that required more than two days to select the jury. In part, the delay came about because more than a dozen potential members of the panel voiced bias against Shkreli as the notorious ex-CEO who imposed a 5,000% price hike on a prescription medication used to treat HIV patients and others with weakened immune systems.
In response, Benjamin Brafman, Shkreli’s lead attorney, late Monday launched a blame-the-media argument that said his client simply reacted to some reporters” attempts to “bait” him into “making public statements that we have all worked very hard to avoid.”
Arguing against any gag order, Brafman wrote that Shkreli, exercising freedom of expression in advance of the nation’s 241’s birthday on Tuesday, acted out of anxiety under pressure and had not intended to “disrupt the proceedings.”
“Rather they are defensive measures taken by him in responsive to what he perceives to be highly prejudicial one-sided coverage of his trial,” wrote Brafman. “In any event, we have spoken to Mr. Shkreli and will make every effort to remove this issue from the case.”
Nonetheless, prosecutors arguing for an unusual muzzling order prosecutors also cited:
- A TV broadcast interview on Friday in which a CNBC reporter asked Brafman how he felt about Shkreli’s surprise courthouse comments. Before the defense lawyer could respond, Shkreli, referring to himself in the third person, said “He’ll do whatever he wants.”
- A recently created Twitter account that may have enabled Shkreli to circumvent his banning from one of his favored social media outlets. Although the account of @BLMBro is labeled as a Shkreli parody account run by a “super-fan,” the account re-tweeted posts critical of prosecution evidence in the case.
Although Shkreli is best known to the U.S. public for medication price hikes, his trial focuses allegations that he defrauded investors in two hedge funds he once headed. He then allegedly defrauded Retrophin, a pharmaceutical company he founded and once headed, by improperly reimbursing the hedge fund investors with Retrophin stock and payments.
Shkreli has pleaded not guilty, as has Evan Greebel, a former Retrophin outside counsel also charged in the case.
Winning a motion for separate trials of the two men, attorneys for Greebel argued that Shkreli was likely to disrupt any trial by “trying to turn this trial into a circus as part of a deliberate strategy to obtain jury nullification rather than have the jury focus on and carefully consider the evidence.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kevin McCoy on Twitter: @kmccoynyc
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