A former Bloomberg News reporter quit her job, divorced her husband and froze her eggs after falling in love with imprisoned Retrophin CEO Martin Shkreli, known as "Pharma Bro."
On Sunday, Dec. 20, Elle magazine published an explosive report that focused on the relationship between Christie Smythe and Shkreli, who is serving a seven-year sentence at a federal prison for securities fraud, which he was convicted of in 2017.
Shkreli, 37, earned the title of the "most hated man in America" in 2015 after intentionally jacking up the price of a drug used to treat a life-threatening parasitic infection.
Who is Christie Smythe?
According to Elle, Smythe studied journalism at the University of Missouri and worked for two small newspapers before migrating to New York in 2008. Following her stint at a legal news company, she started covering Brooklyn federal court for Bloomberg news in 2012.
Smythe was "well regarded" at Bloomberg and contributed "reliable" stories for the news outlet over the years, according to the report. In 2014, she tied the knot toher boyfriend of five years, who worked in investment management. However, things were about to change when her paths crossed with Shkreli.
When Was the First Time Smythe Met Shkreli?
In 2015, based on a tip that Shkreli was under federal investigation for securities law violations and called the former hedge fund manager for comment. He responded by saying that she "had no idea what I was talking about." Smythe went ahead with the story anyway, breaking the news of the investigation but it failed to make an impact because he was not very well known at the time.
Later, she ran a story about his arrest and the piece went viral on the web. She managed to get an in-person meeting with Shkreli after he posted his $5M bond. When they met, Martin started giving Smythe a "spiel," she claimed, and insisted on talking off the record. He showed Smythe spreadsheet after spreadsheet with investors' holdings in his funds. "You could see his earnestness," Smythe said. "It just didn't match this idea of a fraudster."
How Did They Bond?
Smythe said Shkreli kept teasing her, citing examples of indicating an on-the-record interview to her and then giving it to one of her rivals.
At one point, when Smythe called him for comment, something changed. The convicted fraudster was looking for a new lawyer and asked her for advice. She felt "flattered," she said and offered her opinion.
"It really felt like he didn't have anybody to talk to that he could bounce ideas off of," Smythe said. "I was like, 'All right. I guess I can do that.' " He sounded "ragged and fragile, and I got concerned he would commit suicide because all this stuff was all happening at once."
Upon Smythe's request for a profile, they met again, this time at a wine bar Shkreli chose near his apartment. After he said he would consider allowing her to write a feature, they started talking about his childhood and connected over how they had both "succeeded in competitive New York fields as outsiders to the Ivy League."
'Charmed By a Master Manipulator'
In 2016, Smythe started the prestigious Knight-Bagehot Journalism Fellowship at Columbia University, where she wrote about Shkreli for a class. In her assignment, she described
how he manipulated reporters and "how he had so successfully drawn her in," according to her professor, Michael Shapiro.
"Maybe I was being charmed by a master manipulator," Smythe told Elle. In 2017, the former Retrophin CEO invited Smythe to Princeton University where he was to deliver an address to students and was "moved" when he mentioned her during his speech.
"Even if you find an honest reporter — I made friends with one, she's here right now," he told the audience. Later, he met with some of the students at a pub and when Shkreli went to the bathroom, Smythe stepped in to entertain the students. "It almost felt like I was a political wife," she said.
In 2017, during his trial, Shkreli was jailed after he posted a $5,000 bounty for a strand of hair from Hillary Clinton, who had criticized his drug pricing and his imprisonment started affecting her. Smythe paid Shkreli several visits in jail and on one occasion even arrived 52 minutes late for a counselling session with her husband.
'He Told Me He Loved Me Too'
After Shkreli's imprisonment in the securites fraud case and "definitely felt like an advocate for him," she said. She not only confronted tweets that criticized him but also told his supporter how to contact him. Her tweets prompted a warning from her editor, who told her that her behavior was "biased" and "unprofessional."
Smythe quit her job on the spot. "Ms Smythe's conduct with regard to Mr Shkreli was not consistent with expectations for a Bloomberg journalist," a Bloomberg spokesperson said. "It became apparent that it would be best to part ways. Ms Smythe tendered her resignation, and we accepted it." By then her marriage was also almost over.
After leaving Bloomberg, Smythe visited Shkreli again and confessed her feelings for him. "I told Martin I loved him," Smythe said. "And he told me he loved me, too." According to Smythe, the relationship continued through continued visits, phone calls, and emails.
"At first he's like, 'Can I call you my girlfriend?' " she said, and "this led very naturally into thinking about a future together." They started discussing having kids and prenups. Shkreli even suggested Smythe freeze her eggs (and she did!) after she worried about being too old to have children by the time of his release.
However, when Shkreli found out about the Elle article, he stopped communicating with her. He didn't wish for her to tell her story, she said.