Shkreli, convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy, sought leniency from the court after calling the trial a ‘witch-hunt’
In a packed Brooklyn courthouse on Friday, Martin Shkreli, the “Pharma Bro” who rose to international notoriety after increasing the price of a lifesaving drug 50-fold, was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Shkreli, 34, was convicted of two counts of securities fraud and a single count of conspiracy last August. He had dismissed the trial as “a silly witch-hunt perpetrated by self-serving prosecutors”.
But before his sentencing, Shkreli wrote to Judge Kiyo Matsumoto asking for leniency. “I was a fool. I should have known better,” he wrote.
Prosecutors had called for 15 years. The defense had pushed for 12 to 18 months.
In court a tearful Shkreli apologized: “I did not act appropriately.” He said that the government had not brought him down. “I took down Martin Shkreli,” he said.
Shkreli, who has grown a beard since his time in prison, wore a blue prison uniform and a brown undershirt. He slouched throughout the sentencing, with his chin against his chest or hands interlaced in his lap.
His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, argued against a lengthy sentence saying the prosecution had painted “a dark picture” of Shkreli.
“He shouldn’t be sentenced simply for being Martin Shkreli,” said Brafman. “I’m old enough to be his father.” He said there had been times “I want to hug and hold him, times I want to punch him in the face for some of the things he’s said.”
“Quite frankly, I’ve got my begging voice on,” said Brafman.
Federal prosecutors accused Shkreli of cheating investors out of more than $11m between 2009 and 2014 in the investment funds and paying them back – as well as financing his own life – with money from Retrophin, a pharmaceutical company he founded in 2011.
Summing up they called him a “dangerous” man who had failed to show contrition, mocked the justice system and needed to be stopped.
The charges were unrelated to the drug scandal that made him nationally notorious and saw him dubbed “the most hated man in America”.
Shkreli rose to infamy in 2015 when, as the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, he raised the price of Daraprim, a lifesaving drug used by some Aids patients, from $13.50 per pill to $750.
The news sparked a national debate about US drug prices and Shkreli managed the unlikely feat of uniting Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in condemning his actions.
Shkreli seemed delighted with the attention and began a high-profile campaign trolling his critics, refusing to speak to the congressional committee that summoned him to testify against them while calling lawmakers “imbeciles” on Twitter.
I’m not saying he made life easier being the Pharma Bro – that didn’t help his caseJohn Coffee of Columbia Law School
At the trial his bizarre behavior led prosecutors to call for him to be gagged. He eventually lost bail after he encouraged his fans to obtain a hair off Clinton’s head: “$5,000 but the hair has to include a follicle. Do not assault anyone for any reason ever (LOLIBERALS),” he wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post.
Matsumoto said Shkreli had created a danger to the public with his Clinton post. She also noted that a doctor had written to the court stating Shkreli’s “greed and mendacity” had cost one of his patients’ life and that he had threatened the wife of a former employee, writing: “I hope to see you and your four children homeless.”
The judge cited emails Shkreli sent while in prison, where he said, “Fuck the feds”, as evidence that six months in maximum-security prison may not have had the desired effect of deterring Shkreli’s behavior.
“I would encourage you while in custody to seek mental health treatment,” she said.
But she also cited acts of generosity, said he had created no problems in jail and said he was a gifted individual with the capacity for kindness.
John Coffee, director of the Center on Corporate Governance at Columbia Law School, said Shkreli would probably have been prosecuted even without the Daraprim controversy.
“Lots of anonymous people get prosecuted for insider trade. If you are the CEO of a company and you are involved in basic common law fraud, I would think that would be reason enough that the prosecution would say we can’t ignore this he could do it again,” said Coffee.
But his behavior in court and his threat to Clinton didn’t help. “I’m not saying he made life easier being the Pharma Bro – that didn’t help his case,” said Coffee.