“Pharma bro” Martin Shkreli almost lost it all when he was convicted of multiple counts of securities fraud in August 2017. As part of his sentencing, prosecutors asked the federal court to order Shkreli to forfeit $7.3 million, but he was “cash-broke” at the time. So they asked for a few substitutes, including the $5 million bail he posted and a one-of-a-kind, unreleased album by the Wu-Tang Clan, "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin."
Ahead of Shkreli’s sentencing on March 9, a federal judge finally ordered him to forfeit those assets, including the famed album. If Shkreli did turn it over, the album would become U.S. property and fall into the hands of the Department of Justice (and maybe even Attorney General Jeff Sessions). But Shkreli hasn’t turned over the album, according to the DOJ, and he might never have to.
“The Wu-Tang album is not in our possession,” a senior Justice Department official told VICE News on Tuesday. “Forfeiture has been stayed in the Shkreli case pending his appeal of the conviction. And we may never seize the album if, after he loses his appeal, he writes a check to cover his forfeiture obligation.”
Shkreli is currently appealing his seven-year prison sentence. If he wins, he won’t need to follow the judge’s order to hand over the album. And if he loses, he could just pay off his dues — if he has the money.
Shkreli, who earned villain status when he raised the price of an AIDS drug by 5,000 percent, might still have the album. It hasn’t been seen since 2017, when Shkreli placed it for sale on eBay. The bidding started at $1 and went all the way up to a winning bid of $1,025,100. But the deal was never completed.
People close to the Wu-Tang Clan have raised questions about the album’s authenticity, and therefore, its value. If the album isn’t what Shkreli says it is, it would be worth little to nothing. Last year, Shkreli’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said the album was “probably worthless.”
Still, many people — including Wu-Tang Clan cofounder RZA and Matt "M-Eighty" Markoff, who worked with the group — have attempted to buy it back from Shkreli. Those deals never went through either.
When asked whether Shkreli had the album, Brafman responded, “No comment.”
The Wu-Tang Clan released exactly one copy of the album in 2014 and placed it in a silver and nickel-plated box with a 174-page leather-bound book. Shkreli bought the album for $2 million at an auction in 2015; he could do whatever he wanted with it, as long as he didn’t release it commercially for 88 years. All he did was play a bit of the album on a livestream after President Donald Trump won the presidential election, as promised.
Even if the Department of Justice did have the album, Sessions wouldn’t spend much time listening to it — he prefers other music, more relevant to his role.
“While the Attorney General generally enjoys listening to Gilbert and Sullivan (see "Policeman’s Song"), this example highlights the importance of our forfeiture policies because we all agree fraudsters who can afford to buy $2 million albums aren’t going to beat the rap by selling them on eBay,” Sarah Isgur Flores, director of public affairs for the DOJ, told VICE News.
Cover image: Martin Shkreli arrives at federal court in New York, for the fifth day of deliberations at his securities fraud trial. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)