After Martin Shkreli drew public ire last summer for hiking the price of a drug that’s critical to AIDS patients and pregnant women by 5,500 percent, the news of his arrest this month on charges of defrauding investors warmed the internet’s heart.
But even that case is offering reminders of the different societal rules under which people like Shkreli get to operate. Evan Greebel, an alleged co-conspirator in Shkreli’s alleged scheme, is headed to Cancun, Mexico for a vacation with his family despite an initial ruling that he could not leave the state of New York while out on bail.
Federal prosecutors say Shkreli repeatedly covered up losses at his hedge fund, MSMB Capital Management, by misappropriating stock from Retrophin, a pharmaceutical firm he founded. The allegations portray him as “a failed trader with a habit of spreading falsehoods and running his businesses on fumes and misappropriated money,” the New York Times notes.
When those fumes started to sour, Shkreli allegedly enlisted Greebel’s help. Greebel used his legal training to help Shkreli set up the fund transfers at the heart of the alleged fraud. Both men have denied wrongdoing. Shkreli and Greebel paid $5 million and $1 million bonds respectively and are free pending trial.
Until Monday, Greebel’s bond deal was supposed to keep him in the state of New York. But his lawyers asked a judge to allow him to travel to Cancun with his family for the holidays, and she assented. Greebel plans to spend a little over a week in the tropical resort town with his wife, their three children, her parents, and a family friend, BuzzFeed News reports.
The reversal on Greebel’s holiday trip underscores the sense that America operates two very different criminal justice systems for the rich and poor. Bail rules are rarely so flexible for blue-collar criminals. In California, for example, many jurisdictions use a fixed bail schedule that effectively says that the state would be happy to let any given person walk free pending trial so long as they can afford their bond or are willing to go deep into debt with a bail-bonds company.
And more broadly, the systems that pursue fraud and other white-collar crimes are less punitive and less aggressive than the sorts of criminal justice that show up in television dramas. The government has steadily decreased its prosecution of even large financial abuses that are far more damaging to the public than the small-time fraud allegedly committed by Shkreli and Greebel. White collar crime prosecutions are at near-record lows.
Even when the government does win a felony conviction against a financial industry actor, the consequences of that crime often pale in comparison to what happens to a person jailed for even a petty drug crime. That low-level dealer will have a very hard time finding gainful employment after she leaves prison, in part because hiring managers are allowed to simply rule out any applicant with a record. But for big banks that plead guilty to multi-billion-dollar crimes, federal agencies are quick to approve waivers that allow these corporate felons to continue doing business as usual without telling clients that their money is being managed by crooks.