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'Pharma Bro' Martin Shkreli's trial: You can't look away


Martin Shkreli, second from right, shown arriving at Brooklyn federal court in New York City with members of his legal team in June 2017. (Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP)

NEW YORK  — Any other securities and wire fraud trial would probably attract little more than a glance from courthouse spectators, let alone the larger American public.

But the proceeding set to start Monday is not just any trial: It's the Martin Shkreli legal show!

A year-and-half after his arrest, and following hundreds of tweets, scores of online boasts, dozens of live-streams and his purchase of a unique Wu-Tang Clan rap album for a reported $2 million, Shkreli gets his turn to take on the prosecutors who have charged him with conspiracy and fraud.

And everyone wants to experience it, it seems.

No matter that his case has no direct ties to the issue that brought the former pharmaceutical company CEO national notoriety — ordering a 5,000% price hike on a medication for HIV patients and others with compromised immune systems, then refusing to retreat or apologize. Repeatedly.

And never mind that the man informally dubbed the "Pharma Bro," a 34-year-old son of Albanian and Croatian immigrants, may opt against taking the witness stand in his own defense.

For the final pretrial hearing last week, many legal interns joined reporters in U.S. District Court, packing it to overflowing. One woman sat on the carpeted floor.

During legal arguments, Benjamin Brafman, the veteran criminal lawyer who's leading the defense team, indirectly summarized the attraction of Shkreli. He is "traveling to the beat of his very unique drummer."

Jurors are scheduled to hear dozens of witnesses whose testimony will alternately support and question the eight-count indictment against Shkreli. It accuses him of illegally taking stock from Retrophin — a biotechnology company he started in 2011 and was ousted from in 2014 — and then using it to pay unrelated debts owed to investors in hedge funds he'd previously headed.

The indictment also accuses Shkreli of defrauding investors in MSMB Capital and MSMB Healthcare through misstatements and omissions about the financial performance of the hedge funds, how much other investors put in, and how much Shkreli took out.

In all, he withdrew and spent more than $200,000 from MSMB Capital during the fund's operating life, "far in excess of any permitted fees," the indictment charges.

While winding down the funds in 2012, Shkreli raised suspicions by telling investors they could redeem their stakes for cash, or take Retrophin shares instead, the indictment alleges. But, instead of paying departing investors with money from the funds, he allegedly arranged to compensate them from Retrophin, via payments for phony consulting agreements.

Shkreli has pleaded not guilty. So has Evan Greebel, the former Retrophin outside counsel who was also charged in the indictment. In April, the federal judge presiding over the case, Kiyo Matsumoto, ordered separate trials for the men, with Shkreli going first. She ruled that Greebel's legal defense plan to characterize his co-defendant as a liar "would present a serious risk that Shkreli will not receive a constitutionally fair trial."

The trial is expected to last four to six weeks,


Overturned oil tanker explodes in Pakistan, killing 148

Iram Asim, Associated Press Published 7:25 a.m. ET June 25, 2017 | Updated 33 minutes ago

Overturned oil tanker explodes in Pakistan, killing 148

A Pakistani Army soldier stands guard amidst the burnt vehicles at the scene of an oil tanker accident on the outskirts of Bahawalpur, Pakistan, on June 25, 2017. (Photo: Faisal Kareem, epa)

BAHAWALPUR, Pakistan (AP) — An overturned oil tanker burst into flames in Pakistan on Sunday, killing 148 people who had rushed to the scene of the highway accident to gather leaking fuel, an official said.

The death toll could rise further as another 50 people are still in critical condition, said Dr. Mohammad Baqar, a senior rescue official in the area. There were dozens of other injuries of varying degree, he said.

Local news channels showed black smoke billowing skyward and horrific images of scores of burned bodies, as well as rescue officials speeding the injured to hospital and army helicopters ferrying the wounded.

Saznoor Ahmad, 30, whose two cousins were killed in the fire, said the crowd of people screamed as the flames engulfed them.

"The fire moved so fast," he said. When the flames subsided the field was strewn with bodies, and nearby were the charred shells of motorcycles and cars that the villagers had used to race to the scene.

As the wounded cried out for help, residents wandered through the area looking for loved ones.

Overturned oil tanker explodes in Pakistan, killing 148

People cry behind the body of a dead relative as victims of an oil tanker blast are brought to a hospital in Bahawalpur.   (Photo: Faisal Kareem, epa)

Zulkha Bibi was searching for her two sons.

"Someone should tell me about my beloved sons, where are they? Are they alive or are they no longer in this world? Please tell me," she pleaded.

The disaster came on the eve of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. While Saudi Arabia and most other Muslim countries celebrated the holiday Sunday, Pakistanis will celebrate on Monday.

The tanker was driving from the southern port city of Karachi to Lahore, the Punjab provincial capital, when the driver lost control and crashed on the national highway outside Bahawalpur.

A loudspeaker atop a local mosque alerted villagers to the leaking fuel, and scores raced to the site with jerry cans, said Rana Mohammad Salim, deputy commissioner of Bahawalpur.

Highway police moved quickly to redirect traffic but couldn't stop the scores of villagers who raced to collect the fuel, spokesman Imran Shah told a local TV channel.

When the fire erupted, the same mosque loudspeaker called on the remaining villagers to help put it out.

Mohammed Salim ran toward the smoke carrying buckets of water and sand, but said the heat was too intense to reach those in need.

"I could hear people screaming but I couldn't get to them," he said.

Abdul Malik, a local police officer who was also among the first to arrive, described a "horrible scene."

"I have never seen anything like it in my life.


How to buy stocks for the rest of Trump's 1st year in office

Ken Fisher, Special to USA TODAY 7:02 a.m. ET June 25, 2017


Ken Fisher (Photo: Fisher Investments)

Is it over for tech stocks?  Or worse still, growth stocks?  Even worse, the whole stock market?

Headlines have intimated all of that — starting with the sharp tech sell-off June 8. Here's a little-known secret:  Quite unlike most years, in ones like this, there is an easy roadmap that bypasses all this noise.  Simply follow the first quarter’s leaders.

Investing is an odds game, not one of certainties. If you can stack the odds heavily your way, you usually win. Most timing tricks don’t work.  Research my firm created shows that whatever happens in stock markets in the first quarter of a president’s inaugural year (and to a lesser degree other markets) usually gets amplified in that year’s back half, regardless of whatever happens in the second quarter (right now).

Said another way, ignore right now. Instead, buy — don’t sell — categories that shined as 2017 began. They are likely to come on again soon.  That back half is just days away.

As prominent tech stocks plunged, getting FANGed became a front-page verb — synthesizing simultaneous swoons from Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google. Within two days, the jargon morphed to FAAMGed to include Apple and Microsoft.  Shift to China’s Baidu, and you could get BANGed.

I say: Don’t be a DANGed fool!

Instead, heed my simple rule. An inaugural year’s first quarter is a great back-half blueprint. Tech did great then, so it probably will soon. My rule works for the stock market’s direction — and major categories such as tech vs. energy or “growth” vs. “value” stocks.  Or stocks vs. bonds or major currencies!  Overall, with stocks up then, expect strength ahead. Don’t drop tech or previously strong categories when headlines tell you to.

That includes foreign stocks which weakened in recent weeks Before I started writing for USA TODAY, I detailed much of this in a column April 24 for The Financial Times  — including that it works for foreign vs. U.S. stocks.

For example, since 1929, in the 11 inaugural years when foreign stocks started off leading, they did so in the back half 10 of 11 times.  Better still, in those back halves, that leadership increased even more — to do on average more than 10% better per time — big.  That one back-half lag wasn’t big. Go with the odds. Foreign stocks returned 7.86% in the first quarter. U.S. stocks did 6%. Maybe, if my basic rule is wrong, foreign lags some through December. You could do far worse.

Why has this worked — even overseas? “Why” is always tougher to be sure of than “what.” My take?  Our election and subsequent new administration wiggles wrung some uncertainty from our markets early on.  Love or hate President Trump, we know he can get far less done than some feared and others hoped. That certainty means less uncertainty.  Markets love falling uncertainty — largely baked into U.S. stock prices.  Markets love most where uncertainty falls fastest. 


TV tonight: 'BET Awards,' 'Silicon Valley' finale


China's Xi to make first official visit to Hong Kong on Thursday

Thomas Maresca, USA TODAY

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