News and Commentary

Reporter Who Covered ‘Pharma Bro’ Crimes Is Now In Love With Him
Former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli speaks to the press after the jury issued a verdict in his case at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, August 4, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

In 2016, Christie Smythe seemed to have it all — a husband who worked in finance, a dog, a career in journalism at Bloomberg, and a perfect little life in Brooklyn. But years later, after covering “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli and his crimes, Smythe divorced her husband, quit her jobs, and now lives in a basement apartment hoping Shkreli will answer her emails.

In between, an article in Elle explains, Smythe fell in love with Shkreli and became his “life partner,” though the status of that arrangement seems shaky now.

Smythe first learned of Shkreli in early 2015, when a source told her he was being investigated by the federal government for securities fraud. She reached out to Shkreli for a comment for her article, and he told her she “had no idea what [she] was talking about.” She published the story and months later the world learned about Shkreli’s crimes.

“So when Smythe learned the federal investigation of Shkreli had moved forward and he was about to be arrested, ‘I had the sense that there would be massive schadenfreude,’ she says. The charges were that Shkreli had made bad bets in his hedge funds and tried to cover up the losses by lying to investors about how the funds (and investors’ money) were performing. He was also accused of plundering his pharmaceutical firm Retrophin to pay back the hedge-fund investors. In December 2015, Smythe broke the story of Shkreli’s arrest, and ‘the Internet lit up’ she says,” Elle reported.

A month after Shkreli’s arraignment, he called Smythe and reportedly told her, “I should’ve listened to you.” Shkreli agreed to meet Smythe for an interview, but when she arrived, he asked that it be off the record and showed her spreadsheets he claimed proved he paid his investors back.

“You could see his earnestness,” Smythe told Elle. “It just didn’t match this idea of a fraudster.”

Shkreli then spent months promising Smythe an on-the-record interview but wouldn’t follow through, instead speaking to her competitors. Later, after Shkreli infamously purchased a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang album and testified before Congress about his massive increase in drug prices with his pharmaceutical company, Smythe called him for comment and he asked her for advice on finding a new attorney.

That seems to be when a shift began. Smythe told Elle she was “flattered” that Shkreli asked for her opinion and that it seemed “like he didn’t have anybody to talk to that he could bounce ideas off of.”

She later met Shkreli at a wine bar, which preceded months of Shkreli giving her info and then ignoring her for weeks. When Smythe began the Knight-Bagehot Journalism Fellowship at Columbia University in late 2016, she wrote about Shkreli’s manipulation of journalists, including her.

In 2017, Smythe decided to try and write a book about Shkreli and started working on a proposal. In April of that year, Shkreli invited her to a talk he was giving to a club at Princeton University. They attended together and Smythe described the experience as being “a political wife.”

Smythe attended Shkreli’s trial as an observer since she was on book leave and spent time with Shkreli’s friends and supporters. She also visited him during the trial at his apartment and listened to the Wu-Tang album, even tweeting a picture of herself with it.

After Shkreli was sent to prison ahead of sentencing (after telling his followers he’d pay $5,000 for a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair), Smythe contacted his friends to try and get his medications, if he had any, and to find someone to look after his cat.

During this time, Smythe and her husband entered relationship counseling. Smythe begged Shkreli to let her visit him in prison, and he finally did – the day of her first relationship counseling session. She arrived 52 minutes late.

During sentencing recommendations, Smythe realized she had become part of the story when “Individual-1” was mentioned in court. Emails between the two were read aloud to show Shkreli showed no remorse for his actions.

Smythe couldn’t get anyone to buy her book, which was going to offer a sympathetic view of Shkreli. She tried to sell movie rights to the proposal and reportedly received a small sum. She also started lashing out at reporters online who sneered at Shkreli.

By the summer of 2018, her editor at Bloomberg asked to meet with her, suggesting she had violated company policy with her tweets about Shkreli. Smythe resigned from her job, which put more stress on her marriage. She and her husband started divorce proceedings.

Smythe visited Shkreli again and finally told him that she loved him. He, Smythe told Elle, said he loved her too, and they kissed.

Due to the coronavirus, Smythe hasn’t seen Shkreli in a year, Elle reported. He tried to get released for protection, and Smythe tried to get him released to her custody. Shkreli’s lawyers referred to Smythe as his fiancée in their request, but Smythe told Elle they are “life partners.”

It no longer appears the couple could use either of those words, as Elle concludes:

When Shkreli found out about this article, though, he stopped communicating with her. He didn’t want her telling her story, she says. Smythe thinks it’s because he’s worried about fallout for her. While she waits to hear from him, she monitors Google Alerts for his name, posts in support groups for loved ones of inmates, and—because inmates must place outgoing calls and can’t accept incoming ones—hopes one day he will call or reply to one of her emails. “It’s completely out of her control,” [Smythe’s friend Alyssa] Haak says; all she can do is “sit around and wait and hope.”

I can’t gauge Shkreli’s motive, and ask Smythe what she thinks. “That’s him saying, You’re going to live your life and we’re just gonna not be together. That I’m going to maybe get my book and that our paths will”—she sighs—“will fork.” She tears up, and I think about what her journalism professor said, about everyone having an agenda. Watching Smythe, I finally realize her motive for telling her story. She wants Shkreli, and hopes putting their love on the record might at last give her some power in the relationship. “He bounces between this delight in having a future life together and this fatalism about how it will never work,” Smythe says. “It’s definitely in the latter category now.” Sitting in her basement apartment, her eyes wet, her voice quavering, she says she will continue to wait for him while he serves the remaining years of his sentence: “I’m gonna try,” she says. “I’ll be here.”

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