'Pharma bro' Martin Shkreli's social media antics not slowing down during fraud trial

Martin Shkreli, former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, leaves the United States Federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York.
Martin Shkreli, former chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, leaves the United States Federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York.PHOTO: EPA

NEW YORK (BLOOMBERG) - Martin Shkreli is a former hedge fund manager, pharmaceutical executive and social media star. He gained infamy by raising the price of a potentially life-saving drug by 5,000 per cent, was dragged before a government committee where he refused to speak and now is on trial, accused of ripping off his investors in a Ponzi-like scheme.

Still, in the midst of a criminal trial that could land him behind bars for 20 years, the brash 34-year-old known as Pharma Bro is refusing to keep a low profile.

Just 45 minutes after leaving Brooklyn court on June 27, where his fraud trial is taking place, Shkreli was live on Facebook from his Manhattan apartment. Shkreli sat in front of his camera, wearing the same violet shirt he had on in court - no tie, of course. "Eye of the Tiger" played in the background. He popped open a can of Coke, took a sip and was off."What's up haters?" The comments started swarming in, and they were hardly hateful.

"What's up legend" one user wrote. "Dude is my fav," wrote another. Others greeted Shkreli as "Rockstar" and "Pharma-Bro!" All told, more than 18,000 people - almost enough to fill Madison Square Garden - tuned in to hang out with Shkreli on his Facebook Live stream.

Shkreli may have been dubbed "the most hated man in America" by the BBC. But on social media at least, he continues to have a large following: 80,000 Facebook friends and 66,000 YouTube subscribers.

He interacts with them daily even though most defense attorneys tell their clients to keep quiet during a trial. He even provides his mobile phone number to online followers, some of whom ask Shkreli, who's accused of fraud, for financial advice.

"How do I get the funds to start a business?" asked a young man, who called Shkreli's mobile phone during the live stream. "Uh, it's called investors," Shkreli responded while playing with his cat, "Trashy."

He's often polite when followers call. But on occasions he's obnoxious, mocking callers for what he deems dumb questions and sometimes hanging up on them. Yet, his live streams continue to gather thousands of followers, who view Shkreli not as a criminal but a "genius." In fact on Sunday, Shkreli uploaded episode 11 of his "This Week in Investing" YouTube series, a live presentation of the week's market updates and health-care stocks. Three thousand viewers tuned in to hear Shkreli's insights.

"It was an interesting week," he started off."I spent most of the week out of the markets, I have a big thing that I am doing you may know," Shkreli said referring to his criminal trial. "But I'll be back to watching the markets regularly in a few weeks."

Shkreli's erratic and relatively flamboyant behavior might be a factor in his trial.

His defense lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, opened the trial with an explosive speech, listing a series of names that his client had been labeled with over the years, including "Rain Man" and "odd duck." Brafman even quoted pop star Lady Gaga - not once, but twice.

"As Lady Gaga said, 'He was born this way,' and it has nothing to do with this trial," Brafman told jurors.

Brafman also quoted Lady Gaga and her hit song, "Million Reasons.""The government's going to give you 100 million reasons to convict Mr Shkreli," Brafman said. "I'm going give you one good reason to acquit him."

It took three days of questioning to find a panel of jurors for Shkreli's trial, after going through more than 200 candidates. Shkreli's notoriety for boosting the price of the drug Daraprim from US$13.50 to US$750 led to the disqualification of many of the prospective jurors. Though his trial has nothing to do with the price hike, many jurors had negative opinions of Shkreli, calling him "an evil man," "a snake," and "the face of corporate greed in America."

As the trial began on June 26, two Brooklyn courtrooms were packed with reporters from all over the world. Heleen Mees, a columnist for the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant, watched the trial on a closed-circuit television feed in an overflow courtroom. European audiences are interested, Mees said, "because of Shkreli's infamy with regard to US drug prices, which are inexplicably high by European standards, even without Shkreli's interventions."