Biotech and Pharma

Stock trader didn't see Martin Shkreli doing much stock trading while running hedge funds

Key Points
  • "I didn't see him doing a whole lot," said Timothy Pierotti of Martin Shkreli's trading activity.
  • Pierotti earlier had accused Shkreli of harassing him and his family.
  • Pierotti described being aware of insider trading while working at Galleon Group.
Timothy Pierotti
Source: CNBC

A stock trader at one of "pharma bro" Martin Shkreli's hedge funds testified Tuesday he did not see Shkreli "buying and selling stock" or doing other things hedge fund operators normally do.

"I didn't see him doing a whole lot," said the trader, Timothy Pierotti, at Shkreli's securities fraud trial in Brooklyn, New York, federal court.

"Normally at a hedge fund, you would see people managing their position, managing their risk, talking to brokers, buying and selling stock," said Pierotti, who had sat directly across from Shkreli's desk while working for him.

Alixandra Smith, a prosecutor, then asked, "And you did not see the defendant do any of these things?"

"No," replied Pierotti, 46, whose tenure working for Shkreli spanned from late summer of 2011 into late 2012.

Pierotti's testimony bolsters claims by prosecutors that Shkreli's funds, MSMB Capital and MSMB Healthcare, were operating with relatively little money with which to trade, despite Shkreli's boasts to investors of having up to $100 million under management. Pierotti said Shkreli talked about having $80 million or $100 million under management.

Pierotti is expected to testify later Tuesday about allegedly being threatened by Shkreli in 2013 after Pierotti refused to return 350,000 shares he had bought for just $400 in a shell company that did a reverse merger with a drug company, Retrophin, that Shkreli had founded.

Shkreli, 34, has pleaded not guilty to charges of looting Retrophin of stock and cash to repay investors he also is accused of defrauding at his hedge funds.

Pierotti was one of a group of more than a half-dozen friends and associates of Shkreli who received a total of about 2 million shares in a shell company that conducted a reverse merger with Retrophin in 2012 to help it become publicly traded.

Prosecutors alleged that Shkreli secretly controlled those shares, or expected to control those shares, but did not disclose such control as required to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Martin Shkreli, former chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals departs with his attorney Benjamin Brafman after a hearing at U.S. Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, June 26, 2017.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters

Court documents in a civil case Retrophin filed against Pierotti say that Shkreli, in January 2013, wrote Pierotti's wife, saying, "Your husband had stolen $1.6 million from me and I will get it back. I will go to any length necessary to get it back."

"Your pathetic excuse of a husband needs to get a real job that does not depend on fraud to succeed ... I hope to see you and your four children homeless and will do whatever I can to assure this," Shkreli allegedly wrote.

Pierotti was hired in 2011 to trade for yet another Shkreli fund, MSMB Consumer, Shkreli founded that year to invest in consumer company stocks.

He said that while Shkreli planned to capitalize MSMB Consumer with $10 million and hoped to double that amount quickly, by early 2012 "Martin started pulling money back."

"He just started redeeming money out of the fund," Pierotti said.

Pierotti said Shkreli was secretive about where the money to fund MSMB Consumer had come from or where it went after it was taken out.

"Martin didn't talk to anybody about where money came and went from," Pierotti said.

Eventually, Pierotti said, there was so little money in MSMB Consumer that it operated less like a hedge fund, and started to pursue a strategy of focusing on just one stock.

One of those stocks was Rick's Cabaret, a company that operates strip clubs and night clubs, Pierotti said.

Pierotti also testified that in mid-2012 he showed up to work at MSMB's offices on Madison Avenue in Manhattan to see "guys packing their computers and the flat screens into rolling suitcases and walking them out of the building."

"My understanding was the bills had not been paid," Pierotti said. "Rent."

Shkreli's funds then moved to new offices elsewhere in Manhattan.

After getting the shares in Retrophin, along with the group of other friends and associates, Pierotti said, Shkreli made "comments ... that people who had traded ... should trade the stock, buy it and sell it, buy it and sell it."

Pierotti noted that "stocks are more valuable if they have liquidity."

"If a group of people just decided to trade stock back and forth, buying amongst themselves, just for the appearance of creating volume, that would be insider trading," Pierotti said.

Pierotti, who specialized in consumer company stocks, previously worked at the Galleon Group hedge fund, which he left in 2008.

Early in his testimony Tuesday, Pierotti said he had notified federal authorities that while working for Galleon he became aware of instances of insider trading at that firm. One of those instances, Pierotti said, involved Galleon's founder, Raj Rajaratnam.

Pierotti said that neither Rajaratnam nor anyone else asked him to make a trade involving the jam company J.M. Smucker, but at a meeting Rajaratnam "asked me if I was with him" on such a trade, "and I said yes."

"I knew, and he told me, they were using information that was nonpublic," Pierotti said. "I didn't think it was material, but it was nonpublic."

Pierotti said he knew that Rajaratnam "had gotten information given to him by a board member of Procter & Gamble who was doing business with Smucker's."

Rajaratnam was convicted of insider trading in 2011, and is serving an 11-year sentence in a federal prison.

Rajaratnam's former pal and ex-Procter & Gamble board member, Raj Gupta, was convicted at trial of securities fraud in 2012. He was released from prison in early 2016 after receiving a two-year sentence.

Pierotti said he had agreed with prosecutors to testify against Gupta at trial, but was never called to do so.

Pierotti also said he received a non-prosecution agreement in connection with the case, which guaranteed he would not be criminally charged for activities at Galleon as long as he did not lie to federal authorities about them.

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