The “Magnificent” Shkreli

There’s a moment during the first act of Orson Welles’s classic film, The Magnificent Ambersons – a period story about the rise and fall of a local family – where Welles, as narrator, points out what a terror young, self-centered George Amberson Minafer is to all the local citizens.

“Someday,” a neighbor angrily remarks, “that boy is going to get his comeuppance!

That line occurred to me when I heard the news that Martin Shkreli, the young, self-centered, much hated former drug company executive, was sentenced to seven years in prison after being convicted of securities fraud.

The 34-year old, nicked-named Pharma Bro, had received a great deal of press coverage after jacking up the price, overnight, of a lifesaving drug from $13.50 per tablet to $750, along with “his taunts and provocations over social media,” The Wall Street Journal writes (Mar. 10).

Shkreli, his cocky persona vanquished, cried as he told U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, “I’m not the same person I once was.”

“I want the people who came here today to support me to understand one thing, the only person to blame for me being here today is me,” Shkreli said. “I am terribly sorry I lost your trust,” he said. “You deserve far better.”

The judge wasn’t buying it.

In handing down her decision, Matsumoto explained that Shkreli was not being punished for his conduct on social media or for raising the cost of a drug vital to many.

“This case is not about Mr. Shkreli’s self-cultivated public persona … nor his controversial statements about politics or culture,” the judge said, calling his crimes serious.

“The judge said that Shkreli’s own emails call into question his claims of remorse and mentioned the time that he wrote ‘Fuck the feds,’ while also bragging that he wouldn’t serve any real time in prison,” Gizmodo writes (Mar. 9).

“Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacquelyn Kasulis,” Time magazine points out, “said Shkreli deserved a tougher sentence not because he is ‘the most hated man in America,’ but because he is a criminal convicted of serious fraud. She said the judge had to consider his history and said he has ‘no respect whatsoever’ for the law, or the court proceedings.

“ ‘I also want to make clear that Mr. Shkreli is not a child,’ Kasulis said. ‘He’s not a teenager who just needs some mentoring. He is a man who needs to take responsibility for his actions.’ ”

Amen!

In a withering assessment to the court, Kasulis added, “This is not a victimless crime. He did in fact steal that money for his personal benefit, because what motivates Martin Shkreli is his own image. He wants everyone to believe he is a genius, a whiz kid, a self-taught biotech wonder… Without that image, Martin Shkreli is nothing.

“He can’t be just an average person who fails, like the rest of us. He needs to be mythical. He needs to be larger than life. He needs to be a rags-to-riches story. That image is his mansion. His Maserati.”

Shkreli’s reaction?

“There is no conspiracy to take down Martin Shkreli,” he told the court. “I took down Martin Shkreli with my disgraceful and shameful actions… This is my fault.”

“Something had happened,” Welles tells his audience in a soft, thoughtful voice at the end of Ambersons. “A thing which, years ago, had been the eagerest hope of many, many good citizens of the town, and now it had come at last; George Amberson Minafer had got his comeuppance. He got it three times filled and running over.”

In that scene, George is praying by the side of his dead mother’s bed. It’s up to the audience to speculate if an older, wiser George is turning a moral corner.

We’ll see what happens to young Shkreli.

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