Tuesday, October 3, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘Pharma Bro’ Smirks in Silence to Congress

WASHINGTON (CN) - "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli updated his Twitter constantly Thursday morning while refusing to testify before Congress about pharmaceutical price-gouging.

"Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government," he tweeted.

Though the Fifth Amendment muted the normally glib 32-year-old, a throng of reporters clung to his every move at the Capitol.

Shkreli offered lawmakers only a smirk this morning as they tried to question him during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question," repeated Shkreli, who faces a federal securities fraud charges in New York.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., asked Shkreli to confirm the pronunciation of his name, which Shkreli did.

"See there, you can answer some questions," Gowdy quipped.

When Gowdy asked Shkreli about his $2 million Wu Tang album purchase, Shkreli declined to answer again.

"I am stunned that a conversation about an album purchase could subject him to incrimination," Gowdy says.

Gowdy's surprise notwithstanding, the investigation in New York is in fact studying how Shkreli diverted the proceeds of his alleged fraud - which has been likened to a Ponzi scheme.

"I intend to follow the advice of my council, not yours," Shkreli smugly responded.

Shkreli's new attorney, Benjamin Brafman, rose from his seat and asked committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz if he could speak on his client's behalf.

"You are not recognized and you will be seated," Chaffetz ordered.

The theatrics surrounding Shkreli's appearance overshadowed the oversight hearing on pharmaceutical price gouging, convened in the wake of Shkreli's efforts to raise the price of Daraprim, a 62-year old drug used to treats malaria and toxoplasmosis, a condition that is sometimes deadly among babies and people with cancer or HIV.

Shkreli acquired the right to Daraprim through his former company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, in September, then spiked the price of the drug more than 5,000 percent, from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

The move prompted outcries from patient-advocate groups, medical professionals and some lawmakers who say the price increase rendered the drug inaccessible to the people who need it the most.

"I'm disgusted that we are here today to talk about drug-price increases," said Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., the only pharmacist elected to Congress. "No one here today has seen the look on a mother's face when she can't buy her child's medication. I have."

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., slammed companies like Turing that he says do not invest in research or development but acquire drugs to jack up prices and line their own coffers.

"I call this blood money," Cummings said, chiding Shkreli for smirking in response.

"It's not funny, Mr. Shkreli," Cummings fired off. "People are dying. And they're getting sicker and sicker."

Cummings then pleaded with Shkreli to "right his wrongs" and become a patient advocate.

"I truly believe you could become a force of tremendous good," Cummings said. "All I ask is that you reflect on it. No, I don't ask Mr. Shkreli, I beg. ... There are so many people that need your help."

The committee then excused Shkreli from the hearing, triggering a tsunamilike media frenzy as reporters clamored around him and his attorney.

Brafman addressed reporters briefly as they headed toward the Rayburn House building exit.

"Mr. Shkreli has a perfect right to invoke his Fifth amendment and to be ridiculed for it is just unfair and inappropriate," Brafman told reporters.

Brafman shrugged off his client's smirks during the hearing as "nervous energy."

Saying Shkreli would like nothing more than to answer questions, Brafman called it wise to heed his attorney's advice to remain silent.

Turing and Shkreli will address the price-gouging issues, Brafman promisd, but "not in this hostile forum."

Brafman defended his clients' character.

"Mr. Shkreli is a brilliant scientist whose devotion to saving lives is extraordinary in my judgment," Brafman said. "At the age of 32 he has already developed several drugs and is in the process of developing several more that will save the lives of people who suffer from illnesses that most of the major pharmaceutical companies have essentially ignored."

Calling it "extraordinarily unfair" to single out Turing and Shkreli over other pharmaceutical companies, Brafman said Shkreli regrets only the "unfair treatment he has received."

Brafman says he expects Shkreli to be cleared of the charges against him.

"You will see that he has saved many, many lives by his brilliance," Brafman said.

Shkreli was arrested in December on charges that he raided his former biotechnology company Retrophin to pay off investors he defrauded through a now-defunct hedge fund. At a court hearing in New York on Wednesday, prosecutors revealed that Shkeli's investment assets plummeted from $45 million to $4 million in the last month.

Lawmakers continued their hearing without Shkreli, questioning Turing's chief commercial officer, Nancy Retzlaff, about Daraprim.

Retzlaff said she was comfortable with the decision to spike the drug's cost in light of the "extremely small patient population" it serves, in conjunction with mandatory Medicaid discounts and rebates, and the costs for manufacturing and distributing the drug.

Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said the price spike of Daraprim inflicted "great harm on the public," and reprimanded Retzlaff for hiking the price overnight without "a lick of research."

"That is disgraceful," Lynch said. "There's not a lot of shame at the table today, but that is disgraceful."

Retzlaff fired back that "access issues with Daraprim had nothing to do with price."

"They were based on gaps in distribution network, which by the way we inherited from the previous distributor," she said.

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.