Biotech and Pharma

Shkreli jury picking goes very slow: 'I think he's a very evil man,' one woman says

Key Points
  • Martin Shkreli first gained infamy for a 5,000 percent drug price hike.
  • He is accused of ripping off a drug company he ran to repay defrauded investors.
  • Several potential jurors were excused for bias against Shkreli after telling judge and lawyers they think he's a "snake," a "price gouger" and "the face of corporate greed."
Potential jurors don't hold back in the Martin Shkreli trial

Jury selection in the securities fraud trial of Martin Shkreli got off to a slow start Monday as multiple potential jurors expressed disdain for the notorious pharma bro, who gained infamy in 2015 by raising a drug price by more than 5,000 percent.

Jurors used words including "evil," "snake," and "greed" to refer to Shkreli, and several believed incorrectly he had been responsible for the price increase of another drug besides his own.

"I think he's a very evil man," said one young woman in Brooklyn, New York, federal court as she was questioned by Judge Kiyo Matsumoto out of Shkreli's earshot about her bias toward him, as prosecutors and defense lawyers listened in.

"I don't think I can be fair. My opinion is pretty well formed," the woman said, according to a pool reporter who was listening in on her and other sidebar interviews of would-be jurors. "I wouldn't want to serve on this jury."

A male prospective juror said, "I have total disdain for the man."

A second man said, "This is the price gouger of drugs. My kids are on some of these drugs."

A third man said, "He kind of looks like a d---."

The three men and the woman were excused because of their bias, as was a woman who said "I could never convict him," because she believed the stock market is a scam with investors being knowing dupes.

Also dismissed were a number of other potential jurors who either had strong opinions of Shkreli, or had work, family, vacation, or other scheduling conflicts.

By the end of Monday, more than 130 prospective jurors had been dismissed for one reason or another. Remaining were 46 people who had no immediate cause for being excused, who were told to return for further questioning Tuesday. Joining them will be up to another 100 new potential jurors who will be screened.

The judge plans to seat 12 jurors with six alternates.

Shkreli is accused of ripping off his former drug company Retrophin for millions of dollars to repay allegedly defrauded investors at his hedge funds. The charges include securities fraud and conspiracy to commit both securities and wire fraud.

The charges are unrelated to Shkreli's other drug company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, raising the price of the anti-parasite drug Daraprim from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill in 2015.

Matsumoto issued an order late Sunday barring Shkreli's lawyers from arguing to jurors that he lacked the "intent to defraud" because some of the investors he is accused of defrauding actually ended up making money on their investments.

Shkreli's lawyer Benjamin Brafman, at the end of Monday's session, told the judge he wanted to present evidence that a number of purported victims did in fact make money, and were still invested in Retrophin, because it could help show that Shkreli was not acting criminally. The judge said she was not barring him from presenting evidence of anyone's profits.

Earlier in the day, another prospective juror, who was excused, said of Shkreli, "I know he's the most hated man in America."

She said her parents are in their 80s and are "struggling to pay for their medications," including her dad's cancer drug, which "costs more than $1,000 per month."

A middle-aged woman who likewise was excused said that when she walked into court Monday morning "I looked right at him and in my head I said, 'He's a snake.'"

After the woman walked off to the side while lawyers and the judge discussed her comments, Shkreli's lawyer Brafman, quipped: "So much for the presumption of innocence."

Soon after she was excused for bias, another woman said, referring to Shkreli raising the price of the drug, which is used to treat pregnant women, infants, and people with HIV and AIDS, "Who does that? A person who puts profits ahead of everyone else."

The woman then mimicked wringing the neck of Shkreli, who was sitting a dozen or so feet away, but likely couldn't hear her words to the judge, prosecutors and defense lawyers.

A potential male juror was excused when he said of Shkreli, "From everything I've read, I believe the defendant is the face of corporate greed in America."

"You'd have to convince me he's innocent," said the man, who was excused.

Another man who claimed that both of his parents were using Daraprim, which would be unusual, said, "I also have friends with HIV and AIDS and can't afford this drug."

"It's in the back of my mind the whole time."

He also was excused for bias.

Three potential jurors said they thought Shkreli had raised the price of EpiPen, a device used to treat potentially fatal allergic reactions. EpiPen is sold by Mylan, which came under fire last year for sky-high price hikes of the device, but the company and product have no connection to Shkreli.

One women asked the judge several times, "Is this the person who raised the charge of the EpiPen?"

Despite being told "this case has nothing to do with EpiPen" by the judge, the woman said emotionally, "I have three children, three children who depend on EpiPen."

The woman was excused, as were the others likewise concerned about EpiPens.

All the while, Shkreli, 34, sat at a nearby table, often writing notes on a pad of paper.

Brafman at one point was chided by the judge for cutting off the man who said he had total "disdain" for Shkreli.

The lawyer told her, "If a juror is about to go on a tirade about Mr. Shkreli, I'm not sure it's helpful when he said he had utter disdain."

Brafman noted that, contrary to what the defense had requested, a pool reporter was able to listen to sidebar interviews with the jurors, which were not audible to other prospective jurors, journalists and spectators in the courtroom.

"I am anticipating an article, a piece, that will complicate the already complicated task of defending someone so many people feel strongly about," Brafman said.

Shkreli definitely fits that bill.

The brash, social media-loving Brooklyn native, who has denied the allegations, was arrested in December 2015, months after garnering widespread scorn for raising the price of Daraprim.

The sky-high spike resonated with a public increasingly outraged by the cost of prescription medications. Shkreli quickly threw fuel on that fire by refusing to decrease the price of Daraprim.

Shkreli also reveled in using Twitter to insult his many critics, who included then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Clinton's eventual opponent, Donald Trump, also joined in the public chorus denouncing Shkreli.

None of that scorn deterred Shkreli, who later smirked while refusing to testify about Daraprim's price during an appearance before a congressional committee.

Although it wasn't widely known at the time of the price hike, Shkreli was under federal criminal investigation for his tenure as CEO of Retrophin, the company he founded and ran before Turing. The company, echoed later by prosecutors, claimed that Shkreli had used publicly traded Retrophin like a personal piggy bank to pay back people who had invested in two Shkreli-run hedge funds with a series of stock transactions and consulting agreements.

Shkreli is accused of misrepresenting the assets of those funds to investors to hide the fact the funds were money-losers.

Shkreli is being represented by a high-powered legal team headed by Brafman, whose past clients have included Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund chief who was accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid.

Brafman, after being hired by Shkreli, told reporters that he had told his client that he needed to stop talking to journalists. That hasn't happened. Last week, he granted an interview to The Associated Press.

'Pharma Bro' defies advice to keep quiet before fraud trial

Shkreli has continued livestreaming broadcasts online from his apartment, talking about investing, drug development, chess and more mundane matters to viewers.

He also, while free on $5 million bail, has spoken at several colleges, including Princeton, where he recently agreed to pay a senior $40,000 for solving a math proof for a problem Shkreli had posed.

Brafman last week said that offer, along with other monetary prizes posted by Shkreli, had not been paid, and that Shkreli was offering such rewards in an effort to remain in the public eye.

The lawyer said that Shkreli was essentially cash broke, although he claimed his client was worth tens of millions of dollars from Shkreli's ownership stake in Turing.


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