BROOKLYN (CN) – After excusing hundreds of name-calling jurors for bias in three full days of jury selection, Martin Shkreli’s defense team surprisingly embraced the “Pharma Bro”-shaming during opening statements late Wednesday.
“This is Martin Shkreli,” defense attorney Benjamin Brafman told the court. “Is he strange? Yes! Is he weird? Yes!”
Strongly contrasted with the government’s measured and clearly laid out presentation of its case, Brafman challenged his client’s critics with a barnstorming opener that immediately invoked the 2011 Lady Gaga anthem “Born This Way.”
Though his client is best known for jacking the price of a life-saving AIDS drug by 5,000 percent in 2015, Brafman framed 34-year-old Shkreli as a socially awkward boy genius with a “God-given gift.”
Prosecutors say Shkreli ran a Ponzi-like through his now-defunct hedge fund, MSMB Capital Management, to defraud investors in his biotechnology company Retrophin, but Brafman painted Shkreli as the victim, a man taken advantage of and bullied by multimillionaires.
Resonating gusto that would have elicited cheers three days earlier during New York City’s Pride celebrations, Brafman recounted how Shkreli’s investors tried to make sense of him and questioned his sexuality. “It’s 2017,” Brafman exclaimed, “get a life, Board of Retrophin!”
Making yet another reference to a song by “my friend Lady Gaga,” the 2016 hit “Million Reasons,” Brafman offered an antidote to the government reasons to convict. “I’ve got one,” Brafman said, he’s not guilty.”
Against the defense’s theatrics, Assistant U.S. Attorney Karthik Srinivasan referred jurors to a flowchart exhibit to show how Shkreli made payoffs and fraudulent settlements to MSMB investors using stolen Retropin shares.
Shkreli “took investors’ money based on lies and continued to lie to them for months after he had lost all the money,” Srinivasan said.
The prosecutor argued that Shkreli had “no right to use the Retrophin stock to pay off investors,” but ultimately stole more than $10 million from the public company.
Defense attorney Brafman countered this argument meanwhile by saying that Shkreli’s supposedly duped investors “loved Martin Shkreli’s craziness.”
“Despite his flaws and dysfunctional personality,” these high-rollers bought into Shkreli’s genius, Brafman insisted. They even bought him “stupid presents,” Brafman added.
At a time when the hedge-fund investors were more likely occupied at luxury destinations like the Ritz Carlton or the island of Mykonos, Shkreli was sleeping on floors and couches, teaching himself genetic science and organic biology.
“Martin is Martin,” Brafman continued, telling the court that Shkreli was always “true to the mission,” even though “not everything he said was 100 percent accurate.”
Urging the jury to “embrace the presumption of innocence,” Brafman asked them to avoid snap judgments and ignore what he called a “current” of media negativity against his client.
“You want to call him names, call him names,” the attorney added.
Brafman conceded that “joining Team Shkreli comes with a lot of aggravation.”
“You may not like Martin Shkreli, you may hate Martin Shkreli,” Brafman told the men and women in the jury box. But “you must vote not guilty,” he added.
Shkreli faces multiple charges of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The trial, with U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto presiding, is expected to last four to six weeks.
Selection of Shkreli’s jury —12 jurors an six alternates — concluded Wednesday afternoon at 3:45 p.m.