While former Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli languishes inside a federal jail in Brooklyn, the trial of his former attorney - and alleged co-conspirator - Evan Greebel is just beginning, with the defense and prosecution giving opening statements Friday.
The timing is unfortunate. Shrekli’s trial - which ended in him being convicted of three out of eight counts of fraud - briefly revived the public rancor over his many misdeeds. Given Shkreli’s toxic public image, it comes as no surprise that Greebel’s lawyers are already seeking to distance their client - who was arrested on the same day as Shkreli and whose picture was splashed across cable news networks alongside Shkreli’s - from the disgraced pharma executive, who was jailed last month after a judge revoked his bail following a series of controversial and vaguely threatening Facebook posts, Bloomberg reported.
As many will remember, Shkreli’s comfortable life as a successful young pharmaceutical CEO began to unravel in September 2015 when the New York Times reported that Turing had hiked the price of a life-saving toxoplasmosis drug by 5,000%, thrusting Shkreli into an uncomfortable public spotlight and drawing a public rebuke from Hillary Clinton, then presumed to be the next president of the United States.
Following his indictment, Shkreli seemingly set out to destroy any lingering public sympathy by antagonizing the federal government and harassing female journalists - actions that ultimately led to his jailing. Prosecutors have accused Greebel of helping Shkreli steal $11 million from Retrophin, a pharmaceutical company Shkreli founded and ran before being forced out in 2014. Greebel was terminated as Retrophin’s counsel soon after.
Shkreli allegedly used the money, along with Retrophin stock, to repay investors in two failed hedge funds by signing them on to sham consulting agreements with salaries and stock grants. Greebel is also accused of helping Shkreli manipulate the price of Retrophin stock.
Fortunately for Greebel’s defense team, their client has a somewhat more resepectable public image than his associate. He has a family and was once a partner at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP and Kaye Scholer LLP. They’re essentially trying to sell a narrative of him being a quiet family man who got in over his head.
In opening statements on Friday, Greebel’s lawyer told jurors that the 44-year-old father of three and Shkreli, a former biotech executive notorious for aggressive drug-pricing tactics, were as "different as two people can be." Greebel was by no means Shkreli’s "right-hand man," defense lawyer Reed Brodsky told jurors at the trial in Brooklyn, New York.
Greebel “lived a quiet life,” Brodsky said, while Shkreli was "cultivating this public personality and persona, blogging and tweeting.”
It’s no mystery why Greebel, a former corporate lawyer, would want to separate himself from Shkreli, who is in jail after his conviction for lying to hedge fund investors (although jurors weren’t told about that). Greebel wants to show that Shkreli lied to him as well, and that Greebel had no reason to believe he was being asked to do anything wrong.
"Mr. Shkreli is kind of a contradiction," Brodsky said, arguing that Shkreli managed to con people with his "image" of success, brilliant ideas and "photographic memory."
Meanwhile, prosecutors allege he knowingly helped Shkreli loot his company and manipulate its share price for profit.
In the government’s opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Kessler said Greebel started working for Shkreli’s companies around 2011 and used his legal talents to aid Shkreli’s fraud. Kessler said Greebel wanted to please Shkreli to make millions of dollars in fees for his firm.
"Agreeing to help the CEO of a company steal from the company is a crime," Kessler said. "Agreeing to help illegally control the stock market is a crime."
As Bloomberg noted, Greebel’s demeanor in court couldn’t have differed more from Shkreli’s. He sat quietly by his defense team, smiling briefly but otherwise remaining expressionless.
Meanwhile, Shkreli’s was on the receiving end of more bad news this week when a Brooklyn judge refused to return his $5 million bond, saying the money might be needed to offset any monetary penalties that may be levied against Shkreli, the New York Post reported.
Shkreli’s lawyer Ben Brafman asked her to release the money so his client — No. 14 on New York state’s list of top delinquent taxpayers — can start paying taxes.