Benjamin Brafman, right, attorney for pharmaceutical chief Martin Shkreli, foreground, speaks  on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on rising drug prices.  Shkreli refused to testify before U.S. lawmakers who excoriated him over severe hikes for a drug sold by a company that he acquired.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Benjamin Brafman, right, attorney for pharmaceutical chief Martin Shkreli, foreground, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on rising drug prices. Shkreli refused to testify before U.S. lawmakers who excoriated him over severe hikes for a drug sold by a company that he acquired. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Drug exec takes the Fifth on Capitol Hill, angers lawmakers

  • By MARCY GORDON and MATTHEW PERRONE
  • Friday, February 5, 2016 1:03am
  • NewsNation-World

WASHINGTON — Infuriating members of Congress, a smirking Martin Shkreli took the Fifth at a Capitol Hill hearing Thursday when asked about his jacking up of drug prices, then promptly went on Twitter and insulted his questioners as “imbeciles.”

The brash, 32-year-old entrepreneur who has been vilified as the new face of pharmaceutical industry greed was summoned by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating soaring prices for critical medicines.

Four times, he intoned: “On the advice of counsel, I invoke my Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question.”

At another point, he said: “I intend to follow the advice of my counsel and not yours.”

Lawmakers erupted. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the committee, told Shkreli to wipe the smirk off his face.

“I call this money blood money … coming out of the pockets of hardworking Americans,” he said, as Shkreli sat through the lecture.

“I know you are smiling, but I am very serious, sir,” Cummings said. “I truly believe you can become a force of tremendous good. All I ask is that you reflect on it. No, I don’t ask, I beg that you reflect on it. “

The former hedge fund manager with a frat-boy swagger has been reviled in recent months for buying Daraprim, the only approved drug for a rare and sometimes deadly parasitic infection, and then unapologetically raising its price more than fiftyfold.

Shkreli is out on $5 million bail after being arrested in New York in December on securities-fraud charges unrelated to the price increase.

He was dismissed less than an hour into the hearing, but not before Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, shouted down a request by Shkreli’s attorney to speak. Lawmakers instead took turns denouncing his conduct and attitude.

Minutes after he left — and even before the hearing had ended — Shkreli thumbed his nose at the committee.

“Hard to accept that these imbeciles represent the people in our government,” the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals tweeted.

Shkreli’s attorney Benjamin Brafman later said in his defense: “He meant no disrespect, but in truth, statements made by some of the members of the committee were wrong, unfair and difficult to listen to without responding.”

Also appearing before the lawmakers were Turing’s chief commercial officer and the interim CEO of Canada’s largest drugmaker, Valeant Pharmaceuticals.

Documents from Valeant and Turing show they have made a practice of buying and then dramatically raising prices for low-cost drugs given to patients with life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, AIDS and cancer.

The two companies’ executives insisted they are committed to ensuring that cost isn’t a deterrent for patients who need the drugs.

With Shkreli mum, it was up to Turing’s Nancy Retzlaff to defend the Daraprim price rise. She said about 3,000 people are treated with Daraprim, and only 25 percent are covered by commercial insurance. She added that the overall impact of the drug on the budget of commercial health plans “is very, very small.”

Documents show how executives at both companies planned to maximize profits while fending off negative publicity.

As early as last May, Turing planned to turn Daraprim into a $200-million-a-year drug by dramatically increasing its price, according to documents obtained by the committee. Turing bought the 60-year-old drug in August for $55 million.

Shkreli said in an email to one contact: “We raised the price from $1,700 per bottle to $75,000. Should be a very handsome investment for all of us.”

But the company also warned in an internal memo of a possible backlash from advocates for HIV patients.

As for Valeant, documents indicate the company believed it could repeatedly raise the prices of Nitropress and Isuprel without repercussions because the drugs are administered by hospitals, which are less price-sensitive than consumers.

___

AP Business Writer Tom Murphy in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

More in News

The Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore docks in Juneau in October of 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for t​​he Week of April 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Sunday, April 21, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

The “Newtok Mothers” assembled as a panel at the Arctic Encounter Symposium on April 11 discuss the progress and challenges as village residents move from the eroding and thawing old site to a new village site called Mertarvik. Photographs showing deteriorating conditions in Newtok are displayed on a screen as the women speak at the event, held at Anchorage’s Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center. (Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)
Relocation of eroding Alaska Native village seen as a test case for other threatened communities

Newtok-to-Mertarvik transformation has been decades in the making.

Bailey Woolfstead, right, and her companion Garrett Dunbar examine the selection of ceramic and wood dishes on display at the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser on behalf of the Glory Hall at Centennial Hall on Sunday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Empty Bowls provides a full helping of fundraising for the Glory Hall

Annual soup event returns to Centennial Hall as need for homeless shelter’s services keeps growing.

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon and her husband Greg. (Photo courtesy of the City and Borough of Juneau)
Greg Weldon, husband of Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon, killed in motorcycle accident Sunday morning

Accident occurred in Arizona while auto parts store co-owner was on road trip with friend

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Saturday, April 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Friday, April 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, April 18, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Delegates offer prayers during the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska’s 89th Annual Tribal Assembly on Thursday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. (Muriel Reid / Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska)
Tribal Assembly declares crisis with fentanyl and other deadly drugs its highest priority

Delegates at 89th annual event also expand foster program, accept Portland as new tribal community.

Most Read