SMIRK (audio version)
Chapter 2, Part 2: Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

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Chapter 2, Part 2: Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

Chapter 2, Part 2 of my serialized memoir, SMIRK, about my relationship with "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli.
A reporter’s notebook. (Illustration by Shannon Loys.)
A reporter’s notebook. (Illustration by Shannon Loys.)

Martin Shkreli was always eager to talk, even when it wasn’t in his best interest. That was clear from the very first conversation I had with him. Sparks flew during that chat, in a sense, although not really in a heartwarming way.

It was January 2015. He was still a virtual unknown outside of hedge fund, trader and biotech circles. I’d poked around a bit more into my tip that the feds were looking into him for fraud. Despite my editors’ blasé attitude about the story, I felt confident I could report he was “under criminal investigation.” 

Before publishing, I did what was ethically required and reached out to him for comment. I hadn’t anticipated that he, and not a lawyer or some crisis PR representative, would call me back.

“Hi, this is Martin Shkreli,” he announced when I answered my cell phone. He paused for effect. 

He was sorry to tell me that I had “no story.” Yes, there was trouble at his first pharmaceutical company, Retrophin, but that was old news. He had already moved on — after being ousted as CEO by the Retrophin board — and had started a new drug company, Turing.

He asked me who told me about the criminal probe; I refused to answer.

“Oh,” he hissed. “I bet I know.”

He had many enemies, and I would be a fool to trust any of them, he assured me. I told him politely but firmly that I was sure the information was correct, and I would be running the story. I wrote down his infuriated reaction, and added it to my piece.

When the story was published minutes later, colleagues alerted me to Martin’s tweet about it. It was, by his standards, surprisingly mild: He said that I “confused a situation that was no longer relevant.”

I didn’t hear from him again until almost exactly a year later, after his arrest.

What I didn’t realize then was that he did take my reporting seriously…eventually. He later told me that first he childishly complained about me to his employees, and sneered about how a Bloomberg nobody, a woman, so cavalierly rejected his assertions and published these damning claims about him.

“Well, is she cute?” one coworker apparently asked. 

He looked up my profile picture on Twitter — an amateur-looking selfie.

“Yeeeaaaaah,” he apparently grumbled.

And then, just days after I published that piece, he did something wildly unwise for…

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SMIRK (audio version)
My experiences uncovering the story of, and falling in love with, Martin Shkreli.