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A former Bloomberg News reporter left behind her “perfect little Brooklyn life”—casting aside her job, husband and apartment—for a romance with jailed “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli.
Christie Smythe, 38, shared the story of the couple’s unconventional romance in Elle magazine, recounting how she initially pursued Shkreli as an elusive journalistic subject who “kept toying with me” as she tried to get him to commit to an on-the-record interview. Over time, their relationship developed, ultimately leading her to leave behind her once-happy life for a basement apartment in Harlem and a romance played out in a prison visiting room.
“I fell down the rabbit hole,” Smythe told the magazine of her abrupt life shift.
Shkreli made national headlines after raising the price of a life-saving drug called Daraprim overnight by 5,000%. The brash decision earned him infamy as “the most hated man in America,” a “bad boy” and “pharma bro,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
Smythe—who was the first to break the story that Shkreli was under federal investigation for security law violations in 2015 while working at Bloomberg News—first contacted the young executive to get his comment for the article.
After Shkreli was arraigned on the federal charges and allowed to return home after posting a $5 million bond, he called her and agreed to meet in person.
But Shkreli would prove to be an elusive source. He agreed first to only talk off-the-record then repeatedly dangled the promise of a possible on-the record interview in front her as he granted the privilege instead to other reporters.
“He kept toying me for a while,” she told Elle.
Yet he’d also seek her opinion on hiring a new lawyer or discuss his childhood at a local wine bar over dinner.
In 2017, Smythe even wrote a paper during a fellowship she was awarded at Columbia University about how “manipulative” the pharmaceutical executive was to reporters.
At one point, Shkreli reportedly created a fake Facebook page for a different court reporter, from the New York Post, falsely claiming he had a relationship with her. He also bought an internet domain under her name and then offered to sell it to her for thousands of dollars.
Smythe said he trolls people because “he’s anxious.”
“He really, really wants to be somebody,” she said.
When Smythe decided to write a book on Shkreli, her professor at Columbia, Michael Shapiro, cautioned her against focusing on someone “so manipulative.”
“You’re going to ruin your life,” Shapiro told her, according to the magazine.
Looking back now, Smythe admits that “maybe I was being charmed by a master manipulator” but she continued to pursue the possibility of a book and got closer to his inner circle.
Her increasing involvement with Shkreli also began to take a toll on her 2014 marriage to her investment management husband—who told her that he believed Shkreli was “just using you.”
He worried that she was “getting too sucked into this bad person” and was risking her journalistic reputation. The couple eventually divorced.
Smythe got moved off the story at Bloomberg News after realizing emails between her and Shkreli had been included in briefs filed by prosecutors as they argued that Shkreli had faked his remorse and was only interested in doing “everything and anything to get the lowest sentence possible.”
He ended up being convicted of securities fraud in 2017 and sentenced to seven years in prison. But that did little to hinder the feelings Smythe was developing for Shkreli. She kept in touch with him and began publicly tweeting support for him.
“Lots of reporters were tweeting or writing stories about interactions with Martin, and I had a rich store of knowledge I hadn’t been able to use in my book or an article,” she said, according to the magazine.
But her employer, Bloomberg News, was disturbed by the tweets and Smythe ultimately resigned from her position with the news outlet.
“Ms. Smythe’s conduct with regard to Mr. Shkreli was not consistent with expectations for a Bloomberg journalist,” a spokesperson told the magazine. “It became apparent that it would be best to part ways.”
She continued to visit Shkreli in prison, even getting a driver’s license once he got transferred to a prison in Pennsylvania.
She realized she was in love with him during one of those prison visits and told him as much.
“And he told me he loved me, too,” she said, recalling how the visitors' room smelled like chicken wings.
The couple was forced to have limited physical contact and was only able to enjoy a quick hug or kiss due to the prison rules, but they began to think “about a future together” and talked about what they’d name their future children.
Smythe even froze her eggs after worrying that she may be too old to have children once Shkreli got out of prison.
Their contact with one other became even more limited after the COVID-19 pandemic. Smythe said she hasn’t seen Shkreli in more than a year.
Shkreli made headlines again in April when he asked to get out of prison early to help with a possible COVID-19 vaccine and offered to live with Smythe, who his lawyers referred to her as his “fiancée.”
But a federal judge denied the request, ruling that his claim to aid in the research effort was further evidence of the “delusional self-aggrandizing behavior” that had landed him behind bars, NPR reports.
“The court does not find that releasing Mr. Shkreli will protect the public, even though Mr. Shkreli seeks to leverage his experience with pharmaceuticals to help develop a cure for COVID-19 that he would purportedly provide at no cost,” U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto wrote in the ruling.
Smythe prefers to describe the pair as “life partners” — but their romance may not have the fairytale ending she might have envisioned. The couple hit a rough patch after Shrkeli learned that she was talking to Elle for the magazine story and he stopped communicating with her.
Shkreli sent a brief statement to the magazine addressing their relationship.
“Mr. Shkreli wishes Ms. Smythe the best of luck in her future endeavors,” he said.
After learning of his response, Smythe quietly told the outlet "That's sweet,” before expanding on her feelings.
“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 fork,” she said, before reportedly tearing up.
Smythe is still working to try to get a book deal and now works remotely for a journalism start-up. Despite the upheaval to her life, she doesn’t regret the choices she made.
“I am happy here,” she told the outlet. “I feel like I have purpose.”
Her inside look at the trial and prison system has also caused her to rethink the stories she once wrote about the legal system.
“You’re never getting the defendant’s side,” she said, adding that her experience with Shkreli has “changed my perspective enormously.”
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