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Former Drug CEO Not Expected To Answer House Panel's Questions


Here in Washington, Martin Shkreli is appearing before a congressional committee today, which is looking into prescription drug costs. Shkreli made headlines when his company purchased a life-saving drug called Daraprim and then raised the price some 5,000 percent. In December, he was arrested on unrelated securities fraud charges. Shkreli invoked his Fifth Amendment right today. But that doesn't mean he's keeping silent, as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: When someone is the target of a federal investigation the way Martin Shkreli is, that person's lawyer almost always advises him to stay out of the public eye, says securities lawyer Jacob Frenkel.

JACOB FRENKEL: The conventional wisdom is for him to say absolutely nothing and go to ground until after the trial.

ZARROLI: Frenkel says lawyers do this because they don't want their client saying anything that might sound bad to a potential juror. It's advice that Martin Shkreli hasn't always taken. Since his arrest in December, Shkreli has given several interviews. He tweets regularly, and he has a live-stream feed that has become something of a cult phenomenon.


ZARROLI: For hours and hours, you can watch 32-year-old Shkreli in his New York apartment, dressed in a hoodie and sweatpants, taking calls. He plays video games. He strums on a guitar. Sometimes, he goes on OK Cupid and rates the women he sees.


MARTIN SHKRELI: This one's not bad - looks OK. Scary - getting scarier.

ZARROLI: Shkreli has a lot of fans, and he sometimes ropes off a few hours to teach them the basics of investing. Shkreli is not short on self-confidence, and he doesn't suffer fools gladly.


SHKRELI: I don't know if you know much about me, but I short sell a lot. And I'm pretty good at it. That's why - that's why I'm in the New York Times. That's why I'm in (expletive) CNBC. Is it starting to make sense now?

ZARROLI: Shkreli can be gracious to his fans, but he isn't afraid to mix it up with people. One guy calls in with questions about the company Shkreli founded. Shkreli says he doesn't want to talk about them. The guy pushes back, and very quickly, things escalate.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Let's do it.

SHKRELI: Let's do it. You've got my address, let's do it. Throw the hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Maybe I will come.

SHKRELI: Come on down.

ZARROLI: And last month, there was a notorious clash between Shkreli and Ghostface Killah, a rapper from the Wu-Tang Clan. Shkreli paid $2 million to buy the only copy of an album the group did. But when news broke about Shkreli's alleged price-gouging, Ghostface called him a name you can't say on the radio. So the baby-faced Shkreli appeared surrounded by three ominous-looking people he called his goons and insulted him right back. It's hard to tell how much of this is just theater. Shkreli stops well short of talking about the criminal charges he faces. And days before today's committee hearing, he said he would take the Fifth. Attorney Jacob Frenkel says that's probably a good idea.

FRENKEL: There's nothing that prevents the committee from crossing into territory that may bear on the criminal case in New York.

ZARROLI: Shkreli's days of talking to the media appear to be over as well. At a court appearance yesterday, his new lawyer said that, as a condition of taking the case, he made Shkreli promise to stop giving interviews. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.

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