Christmas came early this year when Martin Shkreli, the price-gouging CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, was arrested Thursday morning. Shkreli faces seven counts of securities fraud and wire fraud for an alleged “Ponzi-like” scheme involving two hedge funds and pharmaceutical company Retrophin, all of which he founded.
A lengthy indictment detailing the scheme shatters the image of Shkreli as a successful investor and tells the story of an inept hedge-fund manager who lost big in the late 2000s and has been struggling to keep defrauded investors off his back ever since.
“As alleged, Martin Shkreli engaged in multiple schemes to ensnare investors through a web of lies and deceit,” Robert Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said at a press conference in Brooklyn.
“His plots were matched only by efforts to conceal the fraud, which led him to operate his companies, including a publicly traded company [Retrophin], as a Ponzi scheme, where he used the assets of the new entity to pay off debts from the old entity.” Shkreli faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. All of the current charges pertain to companies that Shkreli operated between 2009 and 2014—not to his dramatic price increase of Daraprim, a drug that treats the parasitic disease toxoplasmosis (although authorities said that the investigation is still ongoing).
The dizzyingly complicated three-part scheme allegedly began in 2009 when Shkreli and his co-conspirators misrepresented his hedge fund, MSMB Capital, to investors, by omitting the fact that he had lost all of the money from his prior hedge fund and had a $2.3 million default judgment against him from Lehman Brothers. The Department of Justice alleges that Shkreli illegally withdrew more than $200,000 from this hedge fund for personal use before it collapsed.
In 2011, Shkreli started a new hedge fund, MSMB Healthcare, courting potential investors while allegedly “concealing from them his disastrous past performance.” Shkreli then purportedly used assets from MSMB Healthcare to pay off some of his outstanding debts.
Continuing in this pattern, Shkreli allegedly defrauded his pharmaceutical company Retrophin from March 2011 to September 2014, working with the company’s outside counsel, Evan Greebel, who was charged alongside the pharma CEO on Thursday. The pair, along with other co-conspirators, purportedly used Retrophin assets to pay off their previous investors. According to Capers, Shkreli used Retrophin as a “personal piggy bank.”
A company spokesperson for Retrophin told The Daily Beast that they replaced Shkreli as CEO over a year ago due to “serious concerns about his conduct.”
“Following his departure, the company authorized an independent investigation of Mr. Shkreli’s conduct, publicly disclosed its findings, and has fully cooperated with the government investigations into Mr. Shkreli. Until we have had the opportunity to review the charges against Mr. Shkreli, we cannot comment further,” the spokesperson added.
In one particularly telling example of Shkreli’s alleged fraud, Shkreli and Greebel allegedly used fake settlement agreements to quiet their defrauded investors, disguising them as “consulting fees” for Retrophin.
“In the end, Shkreli and Greebel used a series of settlement and sham consulting agreements that resulted in Retrophin and its investors suffering a loss in excess of $11 million,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez. “While the charges announced today are significant, they are but one example of what’s left to come as the FBI continues this investigation.”
Authorities repeatedly emphasized that Shkreli made “bad trades” in the past, once losing all but $331 of a $600,000 investment through poor trading.
This, of course, flies in the face of Shkreli’s representation of himself as an expert trader who, in recent weeks, has offered free advice on stocks to his Twitter followers through live-streaming video services. In a Wednesday interview, Shkreli proclaimed himself “the most successful Albanian to ever walk the face of this earth.” That same day, even Bloomberg praised his skill as a short seller. Now, if these charges are true, whatever success Shkreli might have had may have been part of a desperate scheme to stay ahead of defrauded investors.
When asked if Shkreli had increased the price of Daraprim while serving as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals in order to cover his debts, Capers said that it was “not part of their investigation” at this time, although it is still ongoing.
And when asked about the single-copy Wu-Tang Clan album that Shkreli purchased this month for $2 million, Capers said, “I wondered how long it was going to take for [someone to ask] that,” but declined to comment on whether or not the album had been seized.
Shkreli was arraigned on these charges Thursday afternoon in United States District Court. He paid his own $5 million bail— $3 million more than the $2 million he was hoping to pay to bail out jailed Brooklyn rapper Bobby Shmurda—and was released. Turing Pharmaceuticals did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on their CEO’s arrest.