The news is abuzz with tales of justice. Martin Shkreli, the vulture capitalist that everyone loves to hate, has finally been convicted and sent to jail. But this conviction has taken place years after the crimes that Shkreli committed. More than simply a result of the slow process of the court system, Shkreli was at first somewhat insulated from the consequences of his massive price hike for the anti-retroviral drug Daraprim, from about $12 per pill, to about $750 per pill. Obviously, this makes Daraprim literally unaffordable for most AIDS-infected people, but this was not the crime that Shkreli was convicted of, and that is precisely the problem.
Shkreli’s “true” crime in the eyes of the courts was the defrauding of investors. Rumors have swirled for years over Shkreli’s alleged embezzlement of funds from his own pharmaceutical company, Retrophin, and those rumors have now been substantiated, with federal authorities and the Securities Exchange Commission accusing Shkreli of securities fraud. Shkreli is now known to have run at least two hedge fund scams through his company, and this fraud, while undoubtedly a crime, is a different crime from the kind of crime I argue that he should have been convicted of.
Martin Shkreli is a murderer, there is almost zero doubt of this. Anti-retroviral drugs like Daraprim are used to try to treat the weakening of the immune system that HIV and AIDS cause. Without drugs such as Daraprim, HIV/AIDS sufferers will die from infections, diseases, and even colds that their bodies could have fought off if their immune systems were not weakened. Martin Shkreli has been well known, as are his crimes, for years now. Hopefully, some lives could have been saved by a competitor company, who did the reverse of Shkreli; they lowered their drug prices to almost nothing, in an attempt to compensate.
But beyond simple capitalist competition, and simple arguments of supply and demand economics, Shrekli’s company Retrophin’s competitors did something that Shkreli, his shareholders, and his lackeys never would have done; the competition did the right thing. By putting people above profits, the potential to save lives increases. But by increasing the price of a life-extending drug over 5000%, Retrophin and Martin Shkreli embargoed the supply of Daraprim, preventing those who need it from receiving it. While no investigation has been done that I am aware of, there is almost no uncertainty in my mind that Retrophin customers who depended upon that ARV therapy every day were now blocked out from purchasing what they needed to survive.
It would not be difficult for a federal ethics board or a law enforcement agency to determine exactly how long Daraprim was literally unaffordable, how many Retrophin customers were prevented from buying because they couldn’t afford it, and how many among those likely thousands of people have died of illness due to AIDS complications. Martin Shkreli might as well have pulled the trigger himself. He was entirely aware that making a pill cost $750 would make it impossible to afford. He knew that his company would lose customers. He knew that his clients were likely to die, because they need that ARV therapy every single day. By authorizing a 5000% price hike, Martin Shkreli signed their death certificates with glee.
The first time in court, before a Senate panel hearing, Shkreli was beside himself with pleasure, smugly smiling and laughing, telling members of Congress that he refused to answer any of their questions, even when they tried to appeal to the humanity this man did not have, pleading for him to admit what he had done. Shkreli refused. He laughed his way to the bank when he first appeared in court, because he knew that he had just killed dozens, if not hundreds of people or more. He knew that he got away with it. In some ways, the SEC’s ability to catch him running hedge fund scams out of his own company is a dark joke. It wasn’t the deaths of real people that was the crime. It was the defrauding of investors that really matters to the US government. It wasn’t that Shkreli caused people to die needlessly. It was that he dipped his hands into the wrong pockets, the pockets of capitalists. That was the crime to the United States.
I am a 29 year old writer with cerebral palsy. I receive social security disability benefits, for having been born 3 months premature to an epileptic mother. I was born with a brain injury that caused me to be unable to walk. I only began receiving these benefits since my early 20s. My benefits total to less than 9,000 a year. I am deeply in poverty, more than 4 times below the poverty mark of $40,000 a year in the US. If I also had AIDS, even through no fault of my own like my CP, if I had been born to an HIV+ mother, I would have full AIDS now. If I had relied on Daraprim to live, I would have died a few years ago, as soon as it became unaffordable. Martin Shkreli would have lined his pockets with money that is literally stained with my blood, and the blood of thousands of others. And why? For greed, for power, for malice. Because he knew he could, and because he knew that nobody would stop him. As Lil’ Wayne says, “money is the motive.”
Yes, money. Something that petty, that stupid, that evil. Martin Shkreli let people die because he wanted money. I don’t give a damn about the defrauding of investors, THAT is the crime. Because comparatively, the fact that some capitalists lost a few million dollars means nothing compared to the lives of innocent people. Human lives cannot, must not, be measured in dollars. There is no price of a human body, their minds, their dignity, or their souls. No amount of money is ever worth the lives of innocent people.
Perhaps the greater crime, the more laughable aspect, is that Shkreli will not spend all of his sentence in prison. Laughably, he was sentenced to a paltry 7 years, and he’ll likely serve 3 to 5, maybe even as little as two years, before being let out on good behavior, let out to do it again. Martin Shkreli will rise to corporate power again. He WILL commit crimes again. And just like Jordan Belfort, who was convicted on stock manipulation, fraud, and penny stock scams in 1999, Martin Shkreli has every opportunity to profit from his incarceration. We all may have enjoyed or even adored the movie about the man, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, but that movie hides a darker truth. Belfort received royalties from that movie because it was his life. Even more disturbing, Belfort became a public speaker, earning more doing that than he did in the 80s and 90s when he committed his crimes. By watching the Wolf of Wall Street, by buying the DVDs and Blu-Rays, we all collectively helped Jordan Belfort get rich again, and it was all totally legal.
So I ask, what did Jordan Belfort really receive in punishment? The loss of money, a few years in jail, only to be let out and make all of that money back and more? Is that not the greater crime? But when money is the motive, those who pursue it are glorified and worshipped. Jordan Belfort and Martin Shkreli should both die old men in jail, penniless and alone. That is justice. But instead, our culture’s obsession with wealth, our pursuit of stories of crime, drama and glory will propel Belfort, Shkreli, and more, to greater fame, greater wealth, greater heights than even they can imagine.
This fact is depressing enough, and I liken it to mass shooters. More than one mass shooter has stated that they believed that shooting innocent people would make them famous, that they saw some other shooter being paraded around and talked about by the news. They wanted that fame too, so some of these shooters have committed mass murder partially with the goal to one-up a different shooter. To have a higher body count, have more infamy, be talked about more. This same mentality applies to men like Belfort and Shkreli, all of whom have a completely legal and completely exploitative path to fame after their horrendous financial crimes. It doesn’t matter what crimes they commit, or how hard someone works to bring them to justice, because either by hook or by crook, these vulture capitalists know that they will still be rich, legally or illegally. That is not justice, capitalism does not bring justice. Capitalism brings greed, and suffering.
If my mother was an AIDS sufferer, and she had died because of Shkreli’s price hike, I would want his head on a platter. But instead, the “justice” system allows Shkreli and others to become rich again, scot free. Jail time means nothing for them, it’s just “how long do I have to wait before I can get a book deal and go on speaking tours?” The fact that they are even allowed to make money again is sickening. This is a system that through court imposed fines, allows the rich to basically bribe the court system to overlook their crimes, while the poor who have no money go to jail. This is a system that allows off-shore tax havens for the rich to hide blood money in, countries that do not have extradition treaties with other nations are just waiting for some rich criminal to fly there, and hide out on an island outside of the jurisdiction of the country trying to prosecute them. This is a system that allows the rich to operate criminally, with impunity, and without justice.
This country is broken.