Former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli's reputation — for hiking the price of a lifesaving drug, for purchasing a $2 million Wu-Tang Clan album, and for pissing off a lawmaker by refusing to testify before Congress — precedes him, a fact that is complicating jury selection for his trial on securities fraud charges.
More than 100 prospective jurors were dismissed from a federal court in Brooklyn on Monday, with some referring to Shkreli as "the most hated man in America," "the face of corporate greed," and "a snake."
Shkreli —also known as "Pharma Bro" or "the bad boy of pharma"— is charged with securities fraud, accused of essentially running a Ponzi scheme on investors in his companies.
For years, Shkreli allegedly used assets of new companies to pay off debts from his failed hedge fund MSMB Capital Management. Prosecutors claim that with regulators and auditors breathing down their necks, Shkreli and lawyer Evan Greebel used cash and stock from Retrophin — a publicly traded pharmaceutical company he founded in 2011 — to satisfy claims from his hedge fund investors. Throughout it all, Shkreli is accused of doctoring false financial reports to dupe investors and officials.
At the time of his arrest in December 2015, Shkreli had already earned some degree of infamy for reasons unrelated to the fraud case, including his notorious decision to raise the price of life-saving drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill — an increase of 5,000%. A brash social media presence, Shkreli also invited widespread scorn in 2015 for saying he paid about $2 million for the only known copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s new album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.
In court on Monday, dozens of prospective jurors called Shkreli's past actions "evil" and "disgusting," and said they could not be impartial in the case.
"Everything I've read, I believe the defendant is the fact of corporate greed in America," a male prospective juror said on Monday.
"Who does that? A person who puts profit over everything else," another prospective juror said while mimicking wringing Shkreli's neck. Another prospective juror was dismissed after citing a friend who had lost money in a Ponzi scheme.
While Shkreli is charged for securities fraud, Assistant US Attorney Alexandra Smith said jurors may hear about his handling of Daraprin pricing during the trial. One prospective juror told the judge that both of his parents are on Daraprin, and that he has friends with HIV and AIDS who are not able to afford the drug.
"I know he's the most hated man in America, in my opinion," for what he did with Daraprin, a female prospective juror said, before the judge excused her.
At least three other jurors mistakenly believed Shkreli was responsible for raising the cost of EpiPen — an allergy injection — and could therefore not be fair toward him.
"I heard he bought an album from Wutang for $1 or $2 million," a male prospective juror said. When the judge asked him if he could remain fair and impartial the man said no. "Honestly? Because [Shkreli] looks like a dick," the man said, before he shrugged his shoulders and added "sorry."
Juror questioning was conducted almost entirely in sidebar — out of earshot of other jurors and of Shkreli, who read documents and took copious notes during the almost 7-hour long hearing. A pool reporter was allowed at sidebar, who then relayed what had happened to members of the media.
Shkreli's attorney Benjamin Brafman said he had objected to reporters being allowed at sidebar because of negative opinions prospective jurors might have about his client.
"I'm anticipating an article, a piece, that will further complicate the already complicated job of defending someone people feel so strongly about," Brafman said.
By the end of the day, more than 130 prospective jurors were dismissed, including some who were let go because of work obligations, medical needs, and other reasons not related to their feelings about Shkreli. Judge Kiyo Matsumoto has asked for another pool of 60 to 100 potential jurors to be brought to the courtroom on Tuesday.