Con man or brilliant? Clashing portraits of Martin Shkreli offered as trial begins

At start of securities hoax trial, US prosecutor accused ex-pharmaceutical CEO of building a bogus hedge fund empire by telling lies on top of lies on top of lies

Martin Shkreli is either a con man who scammed hedge fund investors of millions or a nerdy genius who made them even richer.

The conflicting portraits were offered Wednesday at opening statements of Shkrelis securities fraud trial, a occurrence colored by the ex-pharmaceutical CEOs antics on social media which, despite the urging of his lawyers to lay low, have never subsided.

Is he strange? Yes, defense attorney Benjamin Brafman told the jurors in federal court in Brooklyn. Will you find him weird? Yes. But Martin Shkreli, despite all his flaws and dysfunctional personality, is brilliant beyond words.

In his opening, deputy US attorney Karthik Srinivasan accused Shkreli of constructing a bogus hedge fund empire by telling lies on top of lies on top of lies. Though he portrayed himself as a Wall Street wizard, in reality, he was just a con man, the prosecutor told.

Shkreli, sometimes dubbed Pharma Bro, often slumped in his chair and appeared bored during jury selection but listened intently and took notes during the governments opening. As his lawyer spoke, he beamed from time to time.

Shkreli, 34, became a pariah in 2015 after a drug company he founded, Turing Pharmaceuticals, spent $55 m for the US rights to sell a life-saving medicine called Daraprim and promptly raised the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

The spotlight intensified later that year with his arrest on charges unrelated to Daraprim focusing on a pair of failed hedge funds he founded. After he lost investors money through bad trades, he secretly looted Retrophin, another pharmaceutical company where he was CEO, for $10 m to pay back his disgruntled clients, Srinivasan told.

Rather than owning up to his lies and admitting his investments were a failing, the defendant doubled down by engaging in an all the more important fraud, he told.

The alleged victims in the case were high-rolling investors who were drawn to Shkrelis quirky personality and ended up getting their money back and more because Retrophin eventually became a successful startup worth$ 1bn, Brafman told.

Board members of his companies who made fun of Shkreli behind his back questioning his sexuality, wondering if he was autistic and calling him Rain Man after the movie character misunderstood his talents, said the defense lawyer, who referred to his client as a nerd, odd duck and a mad scientist.

He added: As Lady Gaga said, He was Born This Way.

Jury selection, which started Monday, dragged out until late Wednesday afternoon as the magistrate sought to find jurors who could ignore the negative press over the price-gouging scandal. Also hard to ignore was Skhrelis footprint on social media where he boasted about buying a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album for$ 2m and got kicked off Twitter for trolling a female freelance journalist in creepy ways.

Questioned by the judge during sidebars, prospective jurors described Shkreli as the face of corporate avarice and a snake.

In this particular case, another dismissed juror said Wednesday, the only thing Id be impartial about is what prison he goes to.

Shkreli is free on$ 5m bond. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

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