The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Martin Shkreli, borrowing from Trump, calls case against him ‘silly witch hunt’

Martin Shkreli, former chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals AG, left, exits federal court with his attorney Benjamin Brafman in the Brooklyn borough of New York on June 29. (Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg)

NEW YORK — For more than a month, Martin Shkreli, the former hedge fund manager, has swiveled in his chair and smirked his way through a trial that could land him in prison for 20 years. If anyone thought the high-stakes trial could tame the ever-loquacious Shkreli, they would be wrong.

An hour after leaving court Thursday, Shkreli took to Facebook to render his judgment on the trial, marrying his cause with that of a certain leader of the free world.  “My case is a silly witch hunt perpetrated by self-serving prosecutors. Thankfully my amazing attorney sent them back to junior varsity where they belong. Drain the swamp. Drain the sewer that is the DOJ. MAGA,” he wrote.

President Trump, of course, has frequently invoked swamp draining in his battles with entrenched Washington interests, and his campaign tag line, Make America Great Again, is often reduced to MAGA on social media.

This is not the first time Shkreli has referred to the prosecutors as “junior varsity.” During the first of his trial, Shkreli strolled into a room full of reporters at the courthouse and mocked the prosecutors with the same term, comparing them negatively to their colleagues in Manhattan. “Do I want to exonerate myself? Yes,” he told the assembled reporters. “I think the world blames me for almost everything. … They blame me for capitalism.”

After the encounter, a visibly frustrated U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto chastised Shkreli and ordered him to stop talking to the media in the courthouse where jurors could potentially hear him. Shkreli’s attorneys promised to abide by the order and said someone from the defense team would escort Shkreli at all times.

But the order did not address Shkreli’s life outside the room and online where he continues to be a visible presence. In addition to posting about the trial, Shkreli posted a live stream where he was seen still in the suit he wore to court.

After more than four weeks of testimony, the case is speeding to a close with the jury scheduled to begin deliberations on Monday morning.

Prosecutors allege that for five years Shkreli lied to investors in two hedge funds and the pharmaceutical company Retrophin, all of which he founded. Shkreli told investors that he had a successful track record as a hedge-fund manager and sent them false performance reports and backdated documents to cover up his losses, prosecutors allege.

In more than eight hours of closing statements that stretched from Thursday into Friday, the defense and prosecution teams have painted vastly different pictures of Shkreli. Prosecutors portrayed Shkreli as a chronic liar who believes the law doesn’t apply to him, while the defense says he is a socially awkward genius who worked hard to make Retrophin a success and repay investors.

Shkreli told “lies upon lies,” prosecutors told the jury. He lied about the size of his hedge funds, whether his funds had an auditor and how they were performing. He lied about attending Columbia University, they said.

“He is calculating,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis told the jury Friday. “It is not just the sheer volume of lies. It is the kind of lies”

“Mr. Shkreli is a smart man, he knew exactly what he was doing, he intended to deceive and intended to defraud,” said Kasulis.

Shkreli’s defense team has sought to rebut the accusations with a simple argument: His investors were not victims but wealthy people whom Shkreli made even richer. Despite troubles with his hedge funds, Shkreli’s investors walked away with a profit, defense attorneys said.

Shkreli’s attorney, Benjamin Brafman, held up a poster showing that some of Shkreli’s investors had made three times their initial investment. Meanwhile, Shkreli spent two years sleeping in his office trying to launch Retrophin, he said.

“Maybe he screwed up, maybe he made mistakes,” the attorney said, but “Martin Shkreli was always truthful to the mission of making Retrophin a success.”

That is not relevant, Kasulis said. If “you rob a bank, then you rob another bank to pay back the first bank, you still robbed the first bank,” she said. “You can’t rob Peter to pay Paul. Just because the defendant got lucky and Retrophin became a success years later … it doesn’t excuse fraud.”

While prosecutors have taken a strait-laced approach to closing arguments, Brafman has entertained the jury with props and stories. He even compared himself to a life guard attempting to save Shkreli from a felony.

“When you deliver a verdict of guilty, that is forever, you are a felon forever,” Brafman told the jury on Friday. It is not prosecutors who get the last word in this case, he said, “You have the last word. I hope those last words are ‘not guilty.'”

Kasulis called Brafman antics a distraction. “Martin Shkreli doesn’t think the rules apply to him, that the law doesn’t apply  to him, unfortunately for him, it does,” he said.