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A Corrupt CEO Busted? Well, Merry Christmas

Corporate CEO Martin Shkreli was busted for stealing. May he be the first of many.

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He is a man of splendid abilities but utterly corrupt. He shines and stinks, like a rotten mackerel by moonlight.

– John Randolph

I’ve never seen a mermaid or a space alien or a leprechaun. I never expected to, of course; these are all creatures of myth and folklore and fabulation, but still … it would be pretty cool to see a mermaid, right? Another thing I never expected to see was a greedy lying thieving scumbag corporate CEO arrested for his serial crimes, but that changed on Thursday when Martin Shkreli was led away before the eyes of the world.

You know this guy. He’s the one who acquired the anti-malarial and anti-parasitical drug Daraprim – used primarily to treat children and AIDS patients – and jacked up the price from $13.50 per pill to $750 per pill. For those of you without your calculators, that’s a 5,500 percent increase. My wife’s multiple sclerosis (MS) medication isn’t cheap, but if we got slapped with a 5,500 percent price increase overnight, we would be financially ruined and my wife’s health would collapse. It’s serious business. Graveyard business.

Mr. Shkreli couldn’t give less of a damn about the sick people on the other end of his pill factory. When his price jack was greeted with outrage, he laughed in our faces via social media while bragging about his lavish corporate CEO lifestyle. If anyone could be said to possess a genuinely rotten soul, Martin Shkreli fits the bill down to his Gucci shoes.

And then he got busted by the FBI, but not for the pill thing. The New York Times does a good job explaining why Shkreli has been charged with seven counts of wire and securities fraud, but the details can be summed up succinctly: He was robbing Peter to pay Paul, robbing Paul to pay Mickey, robbing Mickey to pay Minnie and robbing Minnie to pay Paul, an intricate shell game to cover the money he was stealing while gouging sick people for the price of their pills.

There he was on Thursday, splashed across the front page surrounded by men in dark suits who stuffed him into a car and took him away. I half expected Santa Claus to jump out of the trunk and put a red bow on Shkreli’s head, offering this vision of public accountability as an early Christmas present for a great many people who have been waiting a long time for one of these bastards – just one – to feel the pinch of earned consequences.

A while back, my wife and I were between insurance coverage for all the usual reasons: Job change, crummy indifferent insurance company, the same old story. Her MS medication was running dangerously low, like two-days-left low, but the company that makes the stuff offered her a year’s supply for free and shipped an immediate replenishment to her overnight. I am not the world’s biggest fan of the pharmaceutical industry, mind you – they know MS is a life-long disease and want to keep her as a customer for all the years to come, so their generosity was enlightened self-interest – but still, that is how you do that. Here’s some free stuff you need, and I’ll get paid on the back end. Fair enough.

Shkreli wanted to get paid on the front end, flash money, struttin’ money, and he wanted it so badly he was willing to screw his investors and steal. He was also willing to plunder the meager earnings of sick people to facilitate his lifestyle. His actions would be appalling were they not so grimly commonplace. Shkreli’s personal code of ethics is right in line with CEOs across the financial spectrum, and let’s not forget the politicians they own. Remember the Enron guys who bragged about hiking the rates on Grandma? Remember the politicians in their Rolodex? Same deal. These are the people who crashed the economy and walked away free with money falling out of their pockets. You’ll find more morality in a lagoon filled with hungry sharks.

And yet … and yet … and yet here was Mr. Shkreli facing the fire for at least some of his misdeeds. The only other high-flying executive to feel the impact of such cold conduct I can think of is Bernie Madoff, and the only reason they squeezed his shoes was because he stole from other rich people. If I steal, I go to jail. When these people steal, they get a corner office and a pile of cocaine next to their stacked cash. The myth of the un-arrestable CEO is pervasive, and too many hard-core criminals still walk free. Too Big To Fail.

Mr. Shkreli resigned from Turing Pharmaceuticals after his arrest. He remains CEO of a drug company called KaloBios, though one wonders for how much longer. This little ego-fueled wingding is all but over; even if he manages to dodge the cold embrace of the prison system, he is about exactly as hireable as a dumpster fire.

Mr. Shkreli gives lie to the idea that such people cannot be called to account. He’s just one, only one, but it happened, which means it can happen, which means it must happen again and again. Clean out the stables, drop the hammer. Actions can have consequences, if we have the will to pursue justice. Shkreli is the poster child for this truth.

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