Yesterday, the Department of Justice sold the one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin to an anonymous buyer. The original owner was the notorious pharma bro Martin Shkreli; the DoJ sold the album to clear his civil forfeiture debts tied to securities exchange fraud.
According to Benjamin Brafman, Shkreli's lawyer, the sale was a profitable one. “I can confirm that the proceeds have fully paid off the balance of Mr. Shkreli's forfeiture obligation and can also confirm that the sales price was substantially more than the price he paid for it,” Brafman told Motherboard in an email.
No one has officially confirmed what Shkreli originally paid for the album, but people familiar with the transaction put the price at $2 million. The DoJ set Shrkeli’s initial forfeiture debt at $7.4 million but it’s been slowly collecting that over the past few years. “To date, the government has collected $5,121,967.70 towards the Forfeiture Money Judgment, leaving an outstanding balance currently in the amount of $2,238,482.30,” court documents filed on April 9 said.
Since the record was sold for enough to cover Shkreli's debt, that would suggest it sold for at least $2,238,482.30, a minimum profit of $238,482.30 assuming the reported initial sale price was accurate.
The anonymous buyer was represented by New York City-based attorney Peter Scoolidge.
“I’m an entertainment lawyer with a pretty complex IP background,” he told Motherboard on the phone. “I can say without hesitation that it was certainly the most interesting deal I’ve ever worked on. It was long, it was complicated, and the subject matter was something that’s both personally interesting to me and is just generally interesting in the cultural milieu in which we find ourselves.”
Scoolidge is a huge Wu-Tang Clan fan, and he wants everyone to know that Once Upon a Time in Shaolin whips. He’s listened to it. “We were at the courthouse getting the album from the Marshals service and I’m not gonna close the transaction without making sure that the property is what it’s supposed to be,” he said. “So I listened to it.”
“It didn’t disappoint at all. It was pretty reminiscent of the ‘90s stuff. The first album was really good. All the first solo albums were good, like, Return to the 36 Chambers, Liquid Swords, Ironman, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, whatever,” he said. “And then they did some albums after that, that were perhaps not their best work. But this is like, up there with the best stuff.”
But don’t get your hopes up for ever hearing the album. “It sucks that it’s not going to be released,” he said. “Anyone who buys this album is restricted. Nobody can commercially release it. Contrary to some early reports, it can’t be given away for free.”
That’s part of why Scoolidge was tapped by the anonymous buyer to facilitate the transaction, he said, because he has an expertise in IP law. “It was restricted contractually,” he said. “So that it would be an exclusive private secret thing that only the people who were willing to pay enough money for it could actually experience.”
Scoolidge also said the buyer was an entity, not an individual, and that they’d reveal themselves and do a round of press in the next 30 to 60 days. “The music is really good. I want to get that across,” he said.