How the mighty have fallen

Martin Shkreli’s name is infamous for having bought the rights to a life-saving AIDS and cancer drug and then jacking up the price from $13.50 a pill to $750 without a care for the consequences for the people who depended on the drug. He was sentenced yesterday to seven years in prison for a different offense, of running something like a Ponzi scheme.

What made him become referred to as ‘the most hated man in America’ was not that he acted so rapaciously but that he made no effort to justify his actions using even the most common forms of falsehoods rapacious corporations use to avoid being seen as wholly evil. He seemed to actually enjoy his notoriety, constantly smirking and making outrageous comments to indicate that he just did not care what people said about him. He seemed to enjoy giving the finger to his critics and reveled in the attention it brought him. He even behaved that way during his appearance before a congressional committee and at his trial. Even his own lawyer admitted that there were times when Shkreli was so aggravating that he wanted to punch him in the face.

Watch him during his congressional testimony.

At yesterdays sentencing, though, it was a very different picture. Shkreli cried.

“Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli cried like a baby before he was sentenced to seven years in prison for defrauding investors.

The stiff prison term capped the dramatic fall of the biotech entrepreneur-turned-international villain who gained infamy for jacking up the price of a lifesaving drug for AIDS patients.

“There is no conspiracy to take down Martin Shkreli. I took down Martin Shkreli with my disgraceful and shameful actions,” the sobbing 34-year-old said Friday, his voice cracking and his address interrupted by the judge passing along a box of tissues.

But his trademark swagger was gone when he shuffled out of the courtroom in his navy blue prison jumpsuit.

His lawyers argued that he deserved 12 to 18 months. In his typical grating style, Shkreli himself had earlier boasted that he would likely spend mere months at a cushy “Club Fed” prison.

It looks like right up to the end Shkreli thought that at most he would spend a few weeks at one of the comfortable prisons that wealthy white collar convicted criminals are often sent, where they serve time in some comfort. That he believed that is completely understandable. The US justice system is notoriously unequal in the way it treats people. But he seems to have forgotten that once in a while, the system does prosecute people that one may have thought above the law. Sometimes it is because they are not politically powerful, with Martha Stewart being an example. Another wealthy person Bernie Madoff made the mistake of swindling rich people who had clout. To really be above the law you have to be a top banker or corporate executive and be well connected politically.

That Shkreli was not one of those with that kind of clout and that prosecutors might use him to combat the impression of unequal justice does not seem to have occurred to him, and the length of his sentence seems to have come as a complete shock.


  1. kevinalexander says

    I’ve always thought that he was smirking because he had found a legal way to kill people. He knew that in America the only thing more valuable than human life is money. I don’t think he made any money by jacking up the price of the HIV drug since he put it beyond the reach of most patients.
    His downfall came about because he messed with people with money and that doesn’t get forgiven.

  2. TGAP Dad says

    Shkreli makes another appearance in episode 3 of the excellent Netflix series “Dirty Money,” where he is described as the minnow in that game of gaining rights to a niche drug and hiking its price by an order of magnitude. The whale in that metaphor is Valeant pharmaceuticals, who did exactly that with hundreds of drugs as the primary component of its business model.

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