It seemed like a holiday season miracle. On Thursday morning, Bloomberg Business broke the news that Martin Shkreli — ultimate Wu-Tang fanboy and notorious price gouging pharmaceutical CEO — had been arrested on securities fraud.
Let me get this out of the way first — LOLOLOLOLOL. In a year seemingly stuffed to the gills with remarkably despicable characters, Shkreli still managed to distinguish himself in the field. While others of morally dubious credentials have cut a more polarizing swath, Shkreli's antics have earned him near universal revulsion. It started back in September, when the New York Times revealed how the 32 year-old CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals had recently purchased the toxoplasmosis drug Daraprim — and overnight raised the price from $13.50 a pill to $750. A media crapstorm swiftly ensued, one in which Shkreli further distanced himself from the human race by first saying, "I think that it makes sense to lower the price in response to the anger that was felt by people" and then deciding, naaaah.
And all the while, he continued to preen and posture in a manner that seemed consciously designed to provoke gasket-blowing rage — in an interview just this week with HipHopDX, Shkreli fumed that Wu-Tang has expressed public dismay to learn he was the buyer of the single copy of their "Once Upon A Time In Shaolin." "If I hand you $2 million, f__king show me some respect," he groused. And then with a stunning lack of understanding of what having a job in the field of medicine means, he added, "Raising prices, all this s__t, believe what you want, but it’s interesting. It gets people talking. At the end of the day, that’s what art is."
But if you'd like to discuss art, how's this for poetry? One day after a fawning article in Bloomberg declared, "One thing the 32-year-old Shkreli, chief executive officer of both Turing Pharmaceuticals AG and KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc., doesn’t grab as many headlines for: short selling. And perhaps even less known: he’s very good at it," he now has been arrested. He is charged with "illegally taking stock from Retrophin Inc., a biotechnology firm he started in 2011, and using it to pay off debts from unrelated business dealings."
That's a bad breakup -- in August, Shkreli was sued by Retrophin for $65 million in damages, calling him a "faithless servant" to the company.
The news of the pharma bro's possible downfall has been greeted thus far with near unanimous glee, much of it involving the word "karma." And as someone who has firsthand experience with the life or death stakes of drug development, I admit to sharing in it. But the news of Shkreli's setback does nothing to alleviate the chills I still get from knowing that another blatantly hateful, chronically prevaricating businessman was this week declared the "winner" of the recent Republican debate. And I wonder if Martin Shkreli's great miscalculation was in assuming — and not without supporting evidence — that we here in America have a high tolerance for horrible rich people.
Shkreli is now accused of breaking the law; Trump is not. But both men have coasted to fame by building a calculated "I GOT MINE" d-bag image, Trump as a man who's been called a slumlord in the New York Times and Shkreli as a medicinal price gouger. The difference between them is that Shkreli is a small time player. And celebrating his potential comeuppance feels hollow when you remember that another loudmouthed, braggy, selfish CEO happens to be our current leading GOP contender for the position of president of these United States of America.