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Martin Shkreli bail reduction request denied in hearing that disclosed high debts, legal fees

  • Martin Shkreli is accused of ripping off his former pharma company Retrophin out of millions of dollars.
  • He allegedly used the money to repay defrauded investors in hedge funds he had run.
  • The charges are unrelated to his hiking the price of an anti-parasite medication by more than 5,000 percent.
Martin Shkreli
Lucas Jackson | Reuters
Martin Shkreli

A federal judge Monday rejected, for now, Martin Shkreli's bid to reduce his criminal release bail from $5 million to $2 million during a hearing that exposed his high tax debts, legal fees, and off-beat collectibles.

Shkreli's lawyer Benjamin Brafman also said that the accused securities fraudster, who claimed to be worth up to $70 million when he was arrested in late 2015, now "doesn't have any cash."

Despite that, Brafman conceded, Shkreli recently has made some "preposterous promises" to pay rewards. Those include a $40,000 payment for a math proof, and $100,000 for the identity of the murderer of a Democratic National Committee staffer, in what the lawyer said was an effort to remain in the public eye.

The lawyer said Shrekli has actually not made good on any such reward payment. He said his client is "traveling to his [own] very unique drummer."

Brafman also suggested that the one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album that Shkreli paid $2 million for several years ago is "probably worthless."

Shkreli appeared in Brooklyn, New York, federal court to push for his bail reduction, and for arguments on other issues in advance of his trial, which is set to begin next week. He is accused of looting the former drug company he founded, Retrophin, out of millions to repay investors in two hedge funds he ran, whom he is also accused of defrauding.

Shkreli, who had denied the charges, wanted to have $3 million released from the E-Trade account that is now securing his bail to pay off several debts.

During the hearing, federal prosecutors said Retrophin, which has agreed to pay the majority of its ex-CEO Shkreli's criminal defense fees, has paid Brafman's firm a whopping $4.8 million so far. Brafman disputed that, saying it was $800,000 less that his firm has been paid.

Brafman also said his law firm was fronting Shkreli hundreds of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket legal expenses in preparation for trial for things such as making copies of files.

"Mr. Shkreli is still worth a lot of money," Brafman said, while noting the slew of debts he needs cash for.

Brafman, who told the judge that none of the $3 million being sought would go to Shkreli, said he "owes $6 million in taxes."

But the lawyer said the Internal Revenue Service has agreed, for now, to accept just $1 million, and New York State tax officials to accept $1.25 million in acknowledgment that some of Shkreli's tax liability might be reduced by losses he has incurred. Once the tax authorities get their money, the balance of the $3 million could be paid out to two other entities.

Brafman said Shkreli also owes $326,085 to his civil law firm, Fox Rothschild, to date, and that those fees keep rising every day.

And he owes another $50,000 to an accounting firm that has does forensic work for his defense, and helped clean up his tax issues, Brafman said. That firm is actually owed close to $250,000 for its work to date, he said.

Brafman said that while Shkreli might be cash broke, he does have an ownership stake in the other drug company he founded, Turing Pharmaceuticals, which is worth between $30 million to $50 million.

But the lawyer said Shkreli is not able to sell part of that stake at the moment to raise money because Turing is privately held, and the sale of his stake is subject to other shareholders.

Brafman, in arguing for the bail reduction, said Shkreli is not a flight risk, has family in the area, and noted that his bail amount is five times as high as that of his co-defendant, former Retrophin business lawyer Evan Greebel.

Federal prosecutor Alixandra Smith strongly objected to the request to reduce Shkreli's bail, saying that defense lawyers had been suggesting a reduction for eight months.

Smith noted that Shkreli is refusing to fill out a financial affidavit that would disclose his assets, as other criminal defendants routinely do when obtaining bail.

She also argued that he has made public statements that suggest he has liquid assets, and that he is paying rent.

And she noted that in addition to offering a reward for the solution to a math proof during a recent speech at Princeton, Shkreli had claimed to purchase, for an undisclosed sum, an album from rapper L'il Wayne.

Smith said Shkreli had indicated he owns a Picasso painting, as well as an original Engima machine, a device use for encryption during World War II. At the most recent auction of an Enigma machine, Smith said, the device sold for $296,000. And she said Shkreli has purchased Internet domain names of reporters who have written articles about him.

Smith said she does not understand why Shkreli cannot sell his stake in Turing.

And she argued that the risk that he will flee is rising as his trial next week gets closer.

Smith also argued that there was a risk that the trial judge, by releasing $3 million so some of Shkreli's debts could be paid, would be depriving people who have liens on Shkreli from getting their money in order of legal precedence.

Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, in denying the motion to reduce bail, cited that last concern. She allowed Brafman to renew the motion in the future if some of the concerns could be alleviated.

Both prosecutors and the defense told Matsumoto that they expected the trial to last between five to six weeks.

That irked the judge, who had been told months ago to expect a three-week-long trial, and who had budgeted her trial schedule accordingly.

Prosecutors as of now expect to call up to 57 witnesses.

Jury selection begins June 26, and the judge said she hopes to pick all 12 jurors and six alternates that day, and then immediately begin the trial with opening arguments that day.