The Slatest

Judge Denies “Pharma Bro” Shkreli Prison Release to Research Coronavirus Cure: “Delusional”

Brafman puts a hand on Shkreli’s shoulder as Shkreli smiles.
Defense attorney Benjamin Brafman walks with former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli after the jury issued a verdict at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on Aug. 4, 2017, in Brooklyn. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Remember Martin Shkreli? The 37-year-old who infamously became known as “Pharma Bro” and was sentenced in March 2018 to seven years behind bars after he was convicted of securities fraud for lying to investors is back in the news. This time it’s because a judge roundly rejected his request to be released from prison early so that he could work on a cure for the coronavirus. “The court does not find that releasing Mr. Shkreli will protect the public, even though Mr. Shkreli seeks to leverage his experience with pharmaceuticals to help develop a cure for COVID-19 that he would purportedly provide at no cost,” District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto wrote. “In any event, Mr. Shkreli’s self-described altruistic intentions do not provide a legal basis to grant his motion.”

Shkreli had requested to be released from prison for three months to work on a cure for the coronavirus. Defense attorney Benjamin Brafman filed a motion calling for the release of Shkreli to home detention at his fiancée’s New York City apartment, saying he would “potentially help others” find a “potential cure” for COVID-19. Shkreli posted a research proposal online in which he characterized the current response to the pandemic as “inadequate” and that his background “as a successful two-time biopharma entrepreneur, having purchased multiple companies, invented multiple new drug candidates” would put him in a good position to aid current efforts. “I have always said that if focused and left in a lab, Martin could help cure cancer,” Brafman said in a statement. “Maybe he can help the scientific community better understand this terrible virus.”

In denying the request, Matsumoto pointed to the way probation officials characterized Shkreli’s claim that he could help to find a COVID-19 cure just the type of “delusional self-aggrandizing behavior” that contributed to his conviction. “Shkreli has no formal scientific training and no experience working [in] a laboratory setting, and he does not explain why he cannot continue to develop and discuss any ideas he may have about COVID-19 from prison, as he has,” prosecutors wrote to the judge. And even if he were to somehow find a cure, there’s no evidence to suggest he would not use it “to enrich himself to the maximum extent possible, including by concealing his work or declining to provide such a cure to others unless he were paid an exorbitant sum.”

The judge also rejected the idea that Shkreli’s childhood asthma somehow puts him at particular risk for catching the coronavirus in the low-security Pennsylvania prison where he is being detained that has not reported any cases. “Not surprised but very disappointed,” Brafman, said of the decision. “Notorious defendant never catches a break even when well deserved and in the best interest of the country.”