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Martin Shkreli's lawyer and 'cowboy' venture capitalist duel over what horses and investments are worth

  • Darren Blanton owns frozen semen from one horse that he has estimated is worth $20 million alone.
  • Blanton testifies it took almost three years for Shkreli to redeem his investment in a hedge fund.
  • Blanton served as an adviser on President Donald Trump's transition.

This "cowboy" sure plays coy when it comes to horses and money.

A Texas biotech investor who prosecutors claim was defrauded by Martin Shkreli refused to disclose his estimated net worth under cross-examination at the "Pharm Bro's" federal securities fraud trial. The refusal by Darren Blanton, 52, came even though he has bragged previously about owning frozen semen worth $20 million alone from just one of his horses.

The line of questioning by defense attorney Benjamin Brafman about Blanton's worth appeared to be part of an effort to portray him as a sophisticated investor who was capable of dealing with Shkreli and hedge fund investments.

Prosecutors accuse Shkreli of using stock in his Retrophin pharmaceutical company to pay off investors like Blanton, who were allegedly defrauded at two Shkreli-run hedge funds.

Asked on Thursday by Brafman what he's currently worth, Blanton told the court: "I have no idea right now."

"It's based on a lot of private investments," Blanton added, suggesting it would be difficult to value those investments.

When Brafman pressed further in the federal court trial, suggesting he was worth more than $100 million, Blanton said, "I have an idea."

"But I choose not to disclose it," said Blanton, who runs an investment vehicle called Cold Ventures, and who served as an adviser for the transition of President Donald Trump.

Asked if he had told Shkreli that Blanton's horses alone were worth more than $70 million, Blanton said he did not believe he had told him that.

Asked how much the horses that he owns are worth, Blanton again ducked, "That all depends on what someone pays for them."

Blanton didn't budge when Brafman asked if the horses were worth more than $20 million.

"Is it more than $100?" Brafman finally asked.

"Yes," Blanton conceded, drawing laughs from reporters covering the trial.

Brafman later asked, "Would you consider yourself a success?"

"Not yet," Blanton said.

A 2015 Dallas Morning News referred to Blanton as "the cowboy venture capitalist" and said Blanton wants to be a billionaire and is close to achieving that ambition.

"That's my goal," Blanton told the newspaper. "Most of my companies are private, so you can't really put a market value on them. I could make past that threshold if one of them breaks out."

Blanton testified on Thursday that The Morning News "misquoted me" on the billionaire reference in the story.

The story also said Blanton parlayed a $1 million investment Halozyme Inc. into almost $40 million. It said he "has made another 50 or so biotech investments, several of which have turned into billion-dollar-plus companies."

The article reported that "Blanton's most prized transaction was his purchase three years ago of the legendary cutting horse sire High Brow Cat, whose 1,300-plus "Cat" offspring have netted more than $70 million in prize money in the competitive Western performance horse world."

"He owns 45 Cat offspring, including an actual clone, Copy Cat, and has another 20 on the way next year," the story said.

"He also has the now-sterile 28-year-old stallion's frozen semen as a futures play. 'I figure the Cat inventory is worth about $20 million," he says."

The newspaper said Blanton is a nonprofessional participant in cutting horses competitions. Cutting horses are used in separating cattle from a herd.

Martin Shkreli, former chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals AG.
Peter Foley | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Martin Shkreli, former chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals AG.

Two months ago, his company's receipt of payments from the Trump presidential campaign were highlighted in another story.

A May 4 Washington Post story said that Federal Election Commission reports reveal that Trump's presidential campaign paid $200,000 on Dec. 5 for "data management services" to Blanton's firm Colt Ventures, which is an investor in a social media company called VizSense, a social-media company.

That company was co-founded by Jon Iadonisi, whom the Post noted is a friend and business associate of fired Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn's contacts with Russians are under investigation by federal authorities.

The Post quoted Trump campaign executive director Michael Glassner as saying that invoices "show Colt Ventures was paid for a ­social-media project that involved video-content creation and 'millennial engagement' in the campaign's final month."

"He declined to comment on why the payment went to a venture-capital firm and whether campaign officials were aware of the firm's connection to VizSense and Iadonisi," the Post story said.

The article went on to say that "Blanton met frequently with Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon at Trump Tower during the campaign, according to people who saw him there."

Blanton did not respond to the Post for its story when asked for comment.

Earlier this week, Blanton testified that he had to pester Shkreli for almost three years to get his $1.3 million investment in Shkreli's hedge fund redeemed.

Blanton said he only got $200,000 in cash, and the rest came in the form of stock in Retrophin. And that stock was given to him through a purported "consulting agreement" with Retrophin. Prosecutors claims that agreement was a sham.

Blanton testified that he made $2.4 million on selling some of his Retrophin stock, and that he still retains other shares that are worth nearly $3 million.