Christie Smythe went from a happily married journalist living in Brooklyn to a jobless divorcee living in a basement in Harlem. She risked it all in the name of love. Love for whom? For one of the most hated people in all of America – Martin Shkreli. She claims that falling for him was like “slowly boiling yourself to death in a bathtub.”
Martin Shkreli has been called a sociopath, a narcissist, a pig, and basically everything that’s wrong with capitalism. But when Smythe began covering his case for Bloomberg, she didn’t see any of that. What she saw was a vulnerable man who acted out of fear and anxiety. Their journalist \ source relationship slowly developed into a twisted love affair, which didn’t turn out so well. Let’s see how it all began.
Christie Smythe led a comfortable life in Brooklyn with her husband Devin Arcoleo and their rescue dog. They cooked together, strolled around the park, and enjoyed each other’s company every evening after work. Devin Arcoleo was in finance, and she was a journalist who covered the latest white-collar crimes.
Never too dressed up and with little makeup on, she would take the train each morning to her office in Brooklyn’s federal court. Work was always action-packed and full of interesting cases, but little did she know that one person, in particular, was about to make her throw her perfect little Brooklyn life away.
Smythe wasn’t born an extroverted journalist ready to take on the world. She grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and was a shy, quiet little girl. It was only in high school that she began to develop a sense of self-esteem.
She attended an all-girls Catholic institution, where she decided to share her thoughts in the school’s paper. She ranted about the school’s regulations and strict uniform rules, and through that, discovered her passion for speaking out about things that were important to her.
She Became a Passionate Journalist
Following high school, Smythe attended the University of Missouri, where she studied journalism. She worked for a few small newspapers in the area until she decided to move to the Big Apple in 2008. That seemed like the best step to take to grow in the profession.
She started working for Bloomberg news in 2012 and began covering Brooklyn federal court cases. The job was intense, and Bloomberg’s standards were like nothing she had ever experienced before. But her superiors were satisfied with her work, and Smythe earned herself a respectable reputation.
In 2015, Smythe had a very vague idea of who Shkreli was. She knew he was this cheeky, young executive who had started some hedge funds in his twenties and founded two big pharmaceutical companies, Turing and Retrophin.
So, when she was assigned to question him over the phone about his law violations, she didn’t think he would cooperate. She expected him to answer with a sharp “no comment” and then hang up on her. But he didn’t run away from the call. Instead, he argued back that he had no idea what she was talking about.
Their small interview over the phone didn’t make too much noise in the press because Shkreli wasn’t a well-known figure yet, and he didn’t interest many people. That all changed later that fall, when he became a villain overnight, after raising the price of a drug called Daraprim.
Daraprim is a toxoplasmosis treatment used by AIDS patients. This drug has no general alternative, so Shkreli gave his users no real choice when he raised the price by a whopping 5,000% percent. From an affordable $13 to an out of reach $750. Evil, much?
Shkreli made headlines as the “New Icon of Modern Greed.” He received a tremendous amount of hate from then Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton and even the President himself, Donald Trump, called him a “spoiled brat.”
Shkreli fought back on Twitter, “If any politicians want to start, come at me!” Now that he was all over the news, the charges against him (about lying to his hedge-fund investors) were in full swing, and he was on the verge of arrest. Smythe decided to speak up about his arrest, and now everyone was interested in hearing what she had to say.
In 2016, Smythe finally came face to face with him. One of the most hated people in all of America. She stood outside his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, holding a camera. Her hand was shaking, and she felt nauseous. She was so anxious to meet him she couldn’t bring herself to eat anything that morning.
Shkreli was known to demonize and taunt journalists like her. He thrived off picking fights with people in the media. And there she was, about to interview the demon himself. She knew the job had to be done. He was charged with defrauding his investors at hedge funds, and it was her job to find out what the deal was all about.
Smythe watched as Shkreli pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and was allowed to go home after posting a $5 million bond. A month later, the crafty businessman called Smythe and told her, “I should have listened to you.”
Shkreli was referring to their first conversation in which he denied he had anything to do with fraudulent matters. As they discussed his situation over the phone, Smythe was able to arrange a one-on-one meeting with him in person, just four days later. She had high hopes for their meeting and brought a camera along with her.
They met up at one o’clock, and Shkreli let Smythe know he wanted to talk off the record. She respected that, and he immediately began to work his linguistic magic with smooth and convincing words. He showed her spreadsheets upon spreadsheets of his investors’ funds and argued he had paid them all back.
Smythe claimed she felt he was being sincere and earnest. The whole conversation didn’t match the image she had of him as this evil fraudster. He seemed like a normal guy who was simply misunderstood and wrongly framed.
Smythe revealed she felt Shkreli was “toying with her for a while.” He opened up to her in conversations and then went all berserk in the public’s eye. He bought the Wu-Tang Album (which really ticked people off) and shamelessly snickered to the camera when he talked about the drug pricing. It was hard to understand him.
But one phone call changed everything. Shkreli dialed her one evening and asked for advice. She was amazed by the fact that he even considered her someone reliable. He was searching for a new lawyer and contacted Smythe for help. She was flattered: “It really felt like he didn’t have anybody to talk to that he could bounce ideas off of. I was like, ‘All right. I guess I can do that.’”
The two met in person again, and this time, it was at a wine bar near Shkreli’s Murray Hill apartment. He was a perfect gentleman and impressed Smythe by greeting the waiter in Albanian (both his parents are Albanian). He ordered Cabernet to the table, and Smythe was so taken aback she had a hard time focusing on the menu.
They talked about his childhood and his poor upbringing with two immigrant parents who worked as janitors to keep the family afloat. He revealed all his anxieties and fears and was very vulnerable all throughout the conversation. Smythe was slowly falling for the notorious Pharma Bro.
At this point, Smythe was still married. And her relationship with Shkreli had not yet taken a serious romantic turn or anything of that sort. But it was clear that there was something off and that this wasn’t your normal journalist/source relationship. Her professor at the time, Michael Shapiro, warned her that the worst was yet to come.
Shapiro was Smythe’s professor at Columbia University, where she attended the Knight-Bagehot Journalism Fellowship. In one of her classes, she wrote about Shkreli, describing him as a manipulative force who had successfully drawn her in. She showed Shkreli her essay, and he was ecstatic. He wanted her to write a memoir about him. Professor Shapiro nodded his head in disdain and told her she would ruin her life if she did so.
In 2017, Shkreli invited Smythe to a talk he was giving at Princeton University. The two were sent an SUV to pick them up and were received by the dean, who shook their hands with pride. Shkreli bragged about Smythe to his acquaintances, calling her “an honest reporter.”
They hung out with the students after the talk, and Smythe got to witness his enthusiastic and animated side. She stood by his side and felt as if she were his political wife. Slowly and gradually, she was falling for the master manipulator.
Martin Shkreli’s trial commenced in June 2017. The people against called him “the face of corporate greed” and someone who “disrespected the Wu-Tang Clan.” But Smythe was oblivious to all of that. She ignored the prosecutors’ incessant screaming of prosecutors and their accusation of his infinite lies.
This time, Smyth wasn’t in the courtroom covering the trial for Bloomberg, but she was there out of genuine interest for this man. She sat with Shkreli’s supporters, had lunch with them, and even went out with them for drinks after the proceedings adjourned.
Smythe wants the public to know that Shkreli acts all obnoxious because he’s a very anxious person, and that’s how he deals with it. Not a really convincing argument if you ask me. More than half of the people on Earth are dealing with anxiety, yet you don’t see them walking around scamming, lying, and downright deceiving.
Smythe believes in her claims so much she even tweeted a photo of her holding the Wu-Tang album. She tagged a female journalist whom Shkreli had once attacked online and wrote, “I don’t think he would hurt a woman, even a journalist. Behold me and the #wutang album.”
Smythe’s marriage was falling apart. She was so deeply invested in Shkreli’s story she had no time for anything else. Her husband confronted her, saying, “he’s using you; can’t you see?” To which she always replied with a definite no. Smythe was in denial.
The arguments between the couple escalated, and Smythe felt like Devon was trying to mess with her career. In fact, all her husband was trying to show her was that she was risking her journalistic achievements by “getting sucked into this bad person.”
Shkreli did a lot of immature and satirical things. Like offering his online followers $5,000 for a strand of hair from Hilary Clinton after she criticized his drug pricing. His lawyer defended him, claiming it was meant as a joke and he was just his usual funny self. Funny to whom? I’m not sure.
When Smythe confronted him about the hair incident, he went off about freedom of speech and what not. In the end, the judge jailed Shkreli. The first thing Smythe did was text all his friends and make sure his cat was being taken care of. Yup… just your normal journalist \ source relationship.
Knowing Shkreli was in jail threw Smythe off. She couldn’t sleep, she couldn’t eat, and her heart rate skyrocketed. “I was in denial about it, but this hit me really hard,” she admitted to Elle Magazine. The way her body had reacted to Shkreli’s sudden imprisonment made it clear to Smythe there was something more to this relationship.
She went to visit him in jail shortly after. She was excited and nervous and didn’t want to come empty handed. So, she bought a bunch of vending machine snacks and a hamburger. They hugged, sat down, and talked about jail. Smythe was just happy to see his face again.
Prosecutors were after Shkreli, and they monitored his every move. They cited emails he sent back and forth through the jail email system between him and a person known as “individual-1.” The emails read that Shkreli would do “everything and anything to get the lowest sentence possible,” including faking remorse.
So, who was individual-1? I think the answer is pretty clear. He and Smythe were pen pals by now, and they sent messages to each other at a rapid rate. But the moment Smythe saw their emails exposed like that in court, she knew she could no longer cover this case for Bloomberg. The emails ended up adding two years to his sentence which, to this day, make Smythe shudder just to think about it.
With Shkreli in prison and unable to defend himself through social media (he really ruined himself more on those platforms but still), Smythe was out there advocating for him. She basically fought his online battle, challenging Tweeters, who posted how they felt about the greedy fraudster.
She claimed she did this to correct false information and that, as a journalist, it was important for her to clear the air of fake news. But to be honest, she acted out of blind love, and that’s all there is to it.
Smythe’s behavior had gotten out of hand. Her Tweets were way too personal at that point, and her superiors at Bloomberg decided it was time for a talk. They called her into the conference room and blamed her for being completely biased.
Smythe didn’t fight back. She quietly agreed and resigned on the spot. It was obvious to everyone she had to quit. She hugged her editor on the way out. Later, a Bloomberg spokesperson stated to the press, “Ms. Smythe’s conduct with regard to Mr. Shkreli was not consistent with expectations for a Bloomberg journalist. It became apparent that it would be best to part ways. Ms. Smythe tendered her resignation, and we accepted it.”
It’s hard not to feel for Smythe’s husband, Devin Arcoleo. A source who knew the couple well claimed Arcoleo is “a really nice guy who ended up in an unfortunate situation.” An unfortunate situation is a gentle way of putting things.
His wife left him for one of the most hated men in all of America. Yeah, that can’t be easy. The pair finally divorced on January 2nd, 2019, and Smythe was now free to follow her heart all the way to Shkreli’s jail cell.
Smythe visited Shkreli month after month after month. When he moved to a New Jersey prison, she woke up at 6 a.m. to make it to the prison van that left Manhattan. When he moved to a prison in Pennsylvania, she got a driver’s license just to drive all the way there and see him.
Their time together was the reason she woke up in the morning. She loved visiting him. They talked about different philosophers, artists, history, literature. The man was intelligent, and their conversations “flowed like water.”
With no marriage and no job, Smythe wasn’t in the brightest place in her life. She had strong feelings for Shkreli, true. But it made her sick because she realized he was all that she had now. Vulnerable and scared, she threw herself at him even more.
It finally hit her. She was completely and utterly in love with this criminal mastermind. On her next visit, she confessed her feelings to him, and he responded that he loved her too. That was her cue. Smythe asked if she could kiss him, to which he gladly said yes.
But sustaining a loving relationship, no matter how much love is involved, is not an easy thing to do when you’re behind bars. You can barely hug or kiss each other, let alone have a private romantic night together. But they managed to make it work through a lot of emails and phone calls.
Smythe described those months as the best time of her life. They started thinking about the future together. Family, kids… the whole package! She worried about not having kids once he got out, so she decided to freeze her eggs.
Smythe’s family had a hard time digesting the situation. Her parents were shocked at first, but after seeing how happy their daughter was, they finally gave her their blessing. Smythe’s college friend Alyssa Haak added, “She fully knows what she’s quote-unquote getting into.”
Smythe says she knows how messy things might get. And she’s not expecting the path to be easy. We’re glad she has some level of self-awareness. When you’re dating such a notorious villain, you have to prepare for the worst.
Shkreli ranted a lot about prison life, and Smythe slowly became more and more educated on how things are behind bars. “It gave me a tiny, tiny glimpse of the emotional trauma of incarceration,” she mentioned in an interview.
Smythe wanted to share with others the difficulties of prison life, so she published all sorts of jail stories on Medium. She made a case that the sentences of two prisoners (Shkreli’s friends) were totally unfair. “I start to sound like a defense lawyer when I talk now,” she revealed.
The world has been through some pretty radical changes this year. As a result, Smythe hasn’t been allowed to visit Shkreli since February 2020. The prisoner has even asked for early release because of the current state of affairs in the world.
Smythe tried to help him get out of jail. She wrote a letter describing their commitment to one another and proposed that he move in with her during quarantine. That never ended up happening. As of now, Shkreli has five years still ahead of him.
Smythe went public with their love when she started interviewing and telling her side of the story to different magazines. She said, “I know I did things that are controversial and that many people would not agree with. I followed my heart, though, ultimately, I don’t have any regrets.”
But her passionate confession of love backfired on her. Since she went public, Shkreli has broken off all connection with her. A source close to him came out in a statement, “Mr. Shkreli wishes Ms. Smythe the best of luck in her future endeavors.” How cold…
Shkreli has been ghosting her for a few months now, but that hasn’t killed her spirit just yet. “He does this. He gets mad and doesn’t talk for a while,” she responded when asked whether she’s worried about his disappearance. People online are surprisingly concerned for her.
One person commented, “Hi, I fell for a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder before. I know what you’re going through. Your wakeup will come. And it’ll be difficult and painful, you’ll wonder how you could have been so delusional, and hopefully, in the end, you’ll find your way to full healing.”
Who is this crafty guy who lured Smythe into divorcing her husband and quitting her job (only to ghost her soon after)? Martin Shkreli’s story begins in 1983, in Coney Island Hospital. His parents, both immigrants from Albania, worked as janitors to put bread on the table.
He first learned about stocks from his neighbor Marty, whom he used to play chess. He felt like a world of opportunities had opened up in his mind, and he started to dream big. “I began thinking at the age of 10 or 11 that I could have a big company like Eli Lilly or Merck,” Shkreli recalled once in an interview.
He bought his first stock shares in the computer company Compaq. He continued to do this well into his teenage years and even bought Amazon shares when it went public in 1997. According to him, “While other kids could easily remember the batting averages of their favorite Yankee players, I knew everything about all the public companies.”
People who knew him in high school said he was captivated by the stock market and put in insane hours to learn as much as he could. He eventually dropped out of school and dove deep into the world he longed to part of – Wall Street.
Shkreli insists that his years at Hunter College High School were the reason for his success, despite being dropped out. He particularly thanked his math teacher, Linda Aboody, telling The Daily News that she was “just a wonderful teacher. Her logic class was unbelievably helpful.”
Shkreli donated an impressive one million dollars to his school, but they refused to accept it. They called it blood money. One former classmate wasn’t buying his pretty act: “I thought it was weird [he donated] since he hadn’t graduated. It seemed almost like a ‘take that’ move.”
In the early 2000s, Shkreli interned for Cramer, Berkowitz & Co., founded by Jim Cramer. Shkreli eventually set up his own hedge fund, called MSMB Capital, and, shortly after that, had his first run in with the police.
He trashed biotechnology stocks in online chatrooms to shorten them so his fund could profit. Shkreli was investigated a couple of times but was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing. He got away with the mess he created online, but not for long.
In February 2011, Shkreli founded Retrophin. At the time, he lost a hefty amount of money in his hedge fund but continued to send his investors progress reports as if MSMB Capital was profiting. He ended up funneling money out of Retrophin to pay off his debts in MSMB.
Things were spiraling way out of hand, and Shkreli found himself amid some sort of twisted Ponzi scheme. But there wasn’t much he could do. He was biting off more than he could chew.
In November 2015, Shkreli bought KaloBios Pharmaceutical. That pretty much marked the beginning of the end for this guy. What he did was simply unforgivable. He despicably raised the price of a much needed but limited drug called Daraprim.
Daraprim treats rare parasitic infections that often strike babies and HIV patients. Without any competitors, Shkreli was in an incredible position where he could raise the price, leaving the sick clients no choice but to keep on buying it. The drug spiked from an affordable $13 to $750!
Whenever Shkreli felt enraged, he would post about it online (but in a pitiful, cry-babyish sort of way). He got into numerous fights with journalists who would fire back at his remarks, and his online clashes would reach embarrassing lows.
Like the time when he shot fire at journalist Lauren Duca after she rejected his message invitation on Twitter with “I would rather eat my own organs,” he responded, “Well, start with your heart! What a cold you know what.” He then photoshopped Duca into his profile picture and changed his cover photo to her pictures’ collage. Understandably, Twitter blocked him.
In 2017, Shkreli was found guilty on charges of securities fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. He schemed his investors in MSMB (the ship was obviously sinking, but he transferred everyone’s money around to make it seem like it wasn’t).
His investors suffered a loss of over $11 million from 2009 to 2014. Finally, he was sentenced to prison for seven years. He tried to argue his way out of it, but to no avail. Much to everyone’s delight, Shkreli cried and sobbed in the courtroom as he begged for your honor’s mercy.
Shkreli loved stirring up controversy and seeing the people around him lose their minds. Seriously, it looked like he thrived off other people’s anger and frustration. In 2014, the disgraced fraudster bought the sole copy of Wu Tang Clan’s seventh album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, and described it as “probably worthless.”
The guy paid $2 million for that album, just to call it worthless. Wu Tang Clan member RZA mentioned he would love to get the album back. “That album felt like a child of mine,” he sadly stated.