Chapter 10, Part 3: Arrested Development
Martin Shkreli's George Bluth-like meddlings in his company from behind bars included driving an almost-deal with a Swiss research nonprofit.
Martin Shkreli may have wormed his way out of having a prison job, but that didn’t mean he sat around doing nothing all day. With a cell phone rarely far from his fingertips at FCI Fort Dix, he remained as busy as ever. Along with plenty of other activities, he devoured scientific papers and information about the pharmaceutical industry, and kept an eye on what was going on at Turing – renamed “Vyera,” the Albanian word for “precious” – his drug company.
During our visits, he would look starry-eyed as he explained Vyera’s prospects. Daraprim, the drug whose price he infamously jacked up to tens of thousands of dollars a bottle, would likely go generic, sharply curbing Vyera’s revenue stream, he told me back in 2018. But he expected it would still throw off millions in cash (purportedly extracted mostly from insurers, and not individual patients) for a few years. That company would have plenty of capital to invest in new cures and assure its success well into the future, he said.
He also had hopes of keeping a chunk of the money for himself, of course, as Vyera’s largest shareholder. He hadn’t taken a salary when he served as CEO of Turing, nor during most of the rest of his drug industry and hedge fund career, and thought he was overdue for a reward.
In person, over email and in WhatsApp chats he pulled me into his exuberant fantasies about what he might do with his portion of the profits. Those suggestions included buying homes around the world, collecting art and antiques (at his request, I had a Bonhams catalog sent to him in prison just to browse for fun), starting quirky small businesses…and acquiring a magazine or book publisher and a farm for me. He was amused by my fondness for goats.
We also talked about him starting a podcast styled somewhat like the Howard Stern show, broadcasting out of a creepy “lair” somewhere, and contriving weird (at my request, non-sexual harassment-based) gags intended to toy with the press. He also wanted to try to run for a political office, as a Democrat, and proclaim himself as having “reformed” and taken a “woke” turn.
Our conversations hovered somewhere in the fuzzy midsection between “wacky daydream” and “joke.” Many of Martin’s harebrained schemes throughout his life appeared to spring from that particular starting point – just two or three people kicking around silly ideas and making each other laugh. “The thing about Martin is that there’s always a chance one of those ideas comes true,” one of his friends, who accompanied me on a prison visit, observed on our drive back to New York.
Martin also relentlessly chatted about the “positives” of being in prison: Detoxing from social media (somewhat), spending lots of time reading and researching, eating healthier (sometimes), and learning to get along in group settings with lots of people. He entertained his cellmates, for instance, by teaching them about economics and showing them numerous unsolicited suggestive photos he received from female fans, both through the mail and WhatsApp, making him plenty of friends.
His upbeat attitude and zany antics reminded me of George Bluth, the law-flouting businessman patriarch in “Arrested Development.” Also, a lot like Jeffrey Tambor’s Bluth, he was constantly pulling strings and interfering in business affairs from behind bars – even though he wasn’t supposed to be involved – much to the frustrated annoyance of his former colleagues and employees.
One example (it has not been reported anywhere in the press) was a deal a Swiss research nonprofit and a corporate affiliate of Verya entered into in 2018, which as far as I could tell was driven almost entirely by Martin behind the scenes. The Swiss organization, the…