Biotech and Pharma

Fight brews over Shkreli's Wu-Tang album as 'pharma bro' gets banned by securities industry

Key Points
  • New York state tax officials asked a judge for priority over the federal government in money she ordered be forfeited by convicted "pharma bro" fraudster Martin Shkreli.
  • The SEC revealed Monday that Shkreli agreed to be barred from the securities industry.
  • Shrkeli was convicted of defrauding hedge fund investors, and of manipulating stock in a drug company he founded, Retrophin.
Martin Shkreli
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New York state tax officials could be headed to a fight with federal prosecutors over who will get "pharma bro" Martin Shkreli's Wu-Tang Clan album, Picasso painting and cash even as regulators reveal that Shrkreli had agreed to be barred from the securities industry.

In a new court filing, New York's attorney general said state tax authorities are entitled to first dibs on more than $480,000 out of the nearly $7.4 million convicted fraudster Shkreli was ordered to forfeit to the federal government.

AG Eric Schneiderman said that because of a pending lien for back taxes, state officials have "priority" over the federal government's claim to "substitute assets" belonging to Shkreli that a judge ruled could be seized to satisfy the forfeiture award.

Those assets include the one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang album "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin," the Lil Wayne album "Tha Carter V," the Picasso, as well as $5 million held in an E-Trade brokerage account.

Another asset is Shkreli's shares in Vyera Pharmaceuticals, formerly known as Turing Pharmaceuticals. While CEO of Turing, which he founded, Shkreli gained widespread infamy for hiking the price of its anti-parasite drug Daraprim more than 5,000 percent.

Shkreli must turn over Wu Tang album, prosecutors tell court
Shkreli must turn over Wu Tang album, prosecutors tell court

In a filing Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced that Shkreli had agreed to an order that will bar him from the securities industry in order to settle a pending SEC administrative action against him. Shkreli could apply for readmission to the industry but it would be subject to applicable laws and regulations governing that process. Such a return is unlikely to happen anytime soon as Shrkeli is serving a seven-year prison sentence.

Even before his conviction last summer New York had been aggressive in collecting the tax debt. The state had already seized and auctioned off several items from Shkreli to satisfy another $134,500 in back taxes.

One of those items was a rare Nazi Enigma code machine that federal prosecutors apparently had mistakenly believed was still in Shkreli's possession, and subject to forfeiture, more than seven months after it was seized and sold off by New York officials.

Schneiderman's filing said the substituted assets that remain "are unrelated to the criminal acts for which forfeiture is sought," which means that the federal government's claim to them did not vest until the forfeiture was ordered last month.

The filings said the New York state tax lien on Shkreli's assets vested on Jan. 5, 2017, "well before the conviction of Defendant Shkreli or entry of the [forfeiture] Order."

If U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto rules that New York's claim is "superior" to the federal government's, the state would get its claimed $480,011.43, plus continued interest and penalties, out of the ordered forfeiture amount. That would reduce the federal government's share by a relatively slight amount.

A spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, as well as a spokesman for the United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, which prosecuted Shkreli, both declined to comment.

Benjamin Brafman, Shkreli's lawyer, did not immediately return a request for comment.

Shkreli, 35, was convicted in August of defrauding a group of hedge fund investors and of manipulating the stock in another drug company he founded, Retrophin. Investors testified he had repeatedly lied to them about key aspects of the hedge funds, and misled them about the funds' financial performance.

Shkreli then used stock and cash from Retrophin to pay back the investors for their lost investments, and then some.

Matsumoto last month sentenced Shkreli to seven years in prison.

She also ordered Shkreli, who is now locked up in the federal prison in Fort Dix, New Jersey, to forfeit $7,360,450 to the United States government. And the judge also ordered him to give up his ownership stake in the substitute assets so they could be sold off to satisfy the forfeiture award.

Shkreli is appealing his conviction.

Even before the forfeiture was announced, New York state tax officials had gone after Shkreli for the money he owes them.

In late December 2016, the state Department of Taxation and Finance issued a tax warrant for $1.26 million in unpaid taxes by Shkreli.

Since then, Shkreli has made some partial payments, and the state recouped another $134,500 from him by seizing and auctioning off the seized Enigma machine for $65,000, as well a manuscript signed by Isaac Newton, a letter from Charles Darwin, and another letter written by English mathematician and writer Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace.

The items were seized almost a year ago in May, a month before Shkreli went on trial in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York.

In its new filing, the state tax department said that last September, more than a month after Shkreli's conviction, it served a tax compliance levy on E-Trade Securities, seeking to satisfy his remaining tax obligation with money from Shkreli's brokerage account there.

In October, E-Trade told state officials there was a federal restraining order on that account, "as well as an additional request to restrict the Brokerage Account pursuant to an IRA levy," the filing said.

Officials added that they believe E-Trade still has possession of Shkreli's brokerage account.

That account's $5 million had, until last September, secured Shkreli's release bail, which remained in effect even after his conviction in August.

Matsumoto revoked Shkreli's bail in September after ruling he represented a danger to the public. That ruling stemmed from a stunt Shkreli pulled on Facebook, where he offered followers $5,000 for each strand of hair they were able to pull from the head of Hillary Clinton.

WATCH: Co-worker says Shkreli 'mentally unstable'

Martin Shkreli worker called him 'mentally unstable,' and a 'scam artist' as she threatened to expose his lies to investors
Martin Shkreli worker called him 'mentally unstable,' and a 'scam artist' as she threatened to expose his lies to investors