Nobody puts Benjamin Brafman in the corner when it comes to defending Martin Shkreli.
Brafman, the former Catskills stand-up comic-turned-high-powered criminal defense lawyer, tried to deliver a killer punch line to prosecutors and their evidence Thursday as he asked jurors to acquit his client Shkreli of securities fraud and other charges.
Brafman used a bag of potato chips, a Borscht Belt joke, and jibes about “rich people B.S.” to blast claims that Shkreli was a Ponzi schemer instead of an oddball genius devoted to building a successful drug company to repay his hedge-fund investors.
“This is not a case where anybody was defrauded!” Brafman yelled in Brooklyn, New York, federal court, during closing arguments.
“If you’re committing fraud, you don’t care about your victims.”
“He’s not a Ponzi guy that takes the money and is buying Cadillacs and yachts,” Brafman said. “No one who invested with Martin Shkreli ever suffered any economic harm.”
Brafman also called Shkreli “maybe one of the most extraordinary minds of his generation.”
“He’s an honest kid,” the lawyer said.
But “in terms of people skills? He’s impossible!” Brafman said of Shkreli, who for the past two years has reveled in his Internet troll persona while defending his raising the price of an anti-parasite drug by 5,000 percent.
Brafman’s argument came after a prosecutor painstakingly detailed the government’s case against Shkreli in a nearly five-hour summation.
Prosecutors say that Shkreli, 34, duped investors into putting money into his two hedge funds, misled them about the awful performance of those funds, and then used stock and cash from his new drug company Retrophin. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alixandra Smith’s summation included charts, and references to exhibits such as one numbered “105-03.”
Brafman in his own energetic summation scoffed at the supposed harm to investors, saying they all ended up getting much more money back than they had originally invested in Shkreli’s hedge funds.
“Everyone ultimately got repaid,” Brafman said.
The lawyer conceded that “some investors got ignored by Martin Shkreli for days.”
In fact, investors have testified it took them months, or even longer, to get Shkreli to pay them out for their money after he said he was closing the two hedge funds.
But, Brafman said, “He’s not charged with aggravation. It’s not a crime to aggravate someone.”
The lawyer also underscored to jurors that “every single government witness says that [Shkreli] has issues.”
“Every single witness says there’s something wrong with Martin Shkreli,” Brafman said.
The attorney quoted Retrophin CEO Steve Aslage as testifying that “Martin Shkreli actually says what he believes to be true when it says it.”
Brafman suggested that because Shkreli believed he was telling the truth to investors when he was giving them financial statements that prosecutors claim to have been false, jurors could not convict him of fraud because he had no criminal intent.
Brafman also suggested that Shkreli believed that his then-infant company Retrophin had value to investors, which justified his claims that they were making money at a time when prosecutors have said the hedge funds were effectively broke.
“When it made a fortune and it became successful … he made them not whole, he made them richer than they already are,” Brafman said.
Shkreli “was always truthful to the mission to make Retrophin a success,” Brafman said.
Brafman crinkled the potato chip bag to illustrate the hard work of Shkreli to build Retrophin.
Brafman said anyone could buy the bag of chips in the cafeteria of the courthouse for not much money. But it took hundreds of people, including farmers, factory workers and others, to produce and distribute that bag, Brafman noted.
The lawyer served up a massive dose of scorn for several Shkreli investors, including Sarah Hassan, the daughter of well-known pharmaceuticals executive Fred Hassan, and Darren Blanton, a Texas investor who served on President Donald Trump’s transition team.
Sarah and Fred Hassan “gave you rich people B.S. in their testimony. And you cannot accept that!” Brafman said.
The lawyer said both Hassans tried to distance themselves from Shkreli during their testimony despite having spoken glowingly of him. Brafman sneered at Fred Hassan’s claim of not having personally invested in Retrophin despite the fact that Hassan’s family hedge fund had invested in the company.
Of Blanton, Brafman told jurors, “He’s just lying to you. No respect for your common sense.”
Brafman noted that Blanton had claimed he was misquoted by a news reporter who in an article quoted him as saying he used his conversational skills as a young man to “to con people out of something.”