Martin Shkreli Sentenced to Prison for the Wrong Offenses
Former U.S. drug executive Martin Shkreli has finally received his just desserts. U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto sentenced Shkreli to 7 years in federal prison after a jury found him guilty of securities fraud in August 2017. As part of his sentence, the federal government will also seize $7.36 million in assets from Shkreli through civil asset forfeiture, including the $2 million Wu-Tang Clan album Shkreli had purchased in 2015.
Shkreli became infamous as Turning Pharmaceuticals when he raised the price of Daraprim, an anti-infection drug needed by HIV patients, by 5,000%. Shkreli was not arrested for his actions at Turning Pharmaceuticals, because raising prices is not illegal. Instead, prosecutors charged Shkreli with securities fraud for stealing $10.4 million from investors. Shkreli’s attorneys argued that his client had not caused any losses because Shkreli’s investors eventually made more money than Shkreli had stolen. The jury found him guilty anyway.
Prosecutors demanded 15 years in prison. The defense requested 12-18 months with community service. Judge Matsumoto settled for a median of 7 years with a $7,500 fine and a civil asset forfeiture order of $7.36. Shkreli’s attorneys argued that their client was a changed man who was remorseful of his actions. Shrekli’s behavior during trial showed the opposite: Shrekli bragged online about avoiding jail after the jury handed him his guilty verdict in August 2017 but before his sentencing in March 2018.
The Al Capone Treatment?
On its face, it seems like Martin Shkreli was brought down in the same manner as Al Capone. Al Capone was an infamous Chicago crime boss who avoided prison for multiple murders, but was ultimately prosecuted for tax evasion. Shkreli’s decision to raise the price of Daraprim from $13 to $750 brought down the ire of Congress and major political figures. However, raising prices, even to extraordinary levels, is not illegal. This isn’t to say that Shkreli wasn’t guilty of securities fraud, but District Attorneys probably wouldn’t have been as interested in prosecuting Shkreli if Shkreli hadn’t gone out of his way to put a target on his own back.
The Shkreli highlights two issues with the U.S. justice system. First, there is no penalty for abusing vulnerable peoples. Daraprim is not a new drug – it has been used as medication since 1953. Patients who use Daraprim often rely on it to treat life-threatening diseases, including HIV. Prices can be raised to extraordinary levels, but patients must still purchase it. America has been criticized for prioritizing profits over people, but the fact that putting the supply of medication out of reach of most patients is not illegal is one of the most blatant examples possible.
The second issue is how political prosecutions are. Shkreli could have defrauded tens of thousands of investors, but prosecutors might have looked the other way if Shkreli hadn’t gained the notoriety he did. Although laws punish abuse defrauding wealthy investors more than poor medical patients, those wealthy investors would not have had their time in court without the attention that ripping off HIV patients got. The crux of the problem is that the law should prosecute people regardless of other immoral acts they might have committed.
Arrogance of the Wealthy
One of the most interesting things about this case is how arrogant Shkreli was. Shkreli flouted the fact that he could raise prices without regard for human life. Shkreli’s bail was revoked because he put out a $5,000 bounty for a piece of Hillary Clinton’s hair. Even after a jury found Shkreli guilty of three out of seven charges, Shkreli believed he wouldn’t serve much prison time. His own attorney admitted at sentencing that at times he wanted to punch his client in the face.
It is easy to attack Shkreli for being an insufferable douche, but America is full of Shkreli like characters. Men like Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, and Harvey Weinstein think they can abuse women with less power and get away with it. Prosperity theology takes these douches and turns them into holy figures and political martyrs. Even worse, we reward men like Bill Clinton and Donald Trump with power even after their real character comes out. If we are outraged that one man can raise the price of Daraprim from $13 to $750 and that is legal, we have to stop putting men like Shkreli into positions of power. They will always write the rules so that their outrageous and abusive behavior becomes legal.