Christie Smythe is the New York journalist who revealed she quit her job at Bloomberg News and ended her marriage because she had fallen in love with Martin Shkreli, the “most hated man in America.”
Shkreli is the former drug executive serving a seven-year prison sentence for securities fraud, as Heavy previously reported. He earned the moniker after his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, raised the price of a life-saving medication called Daraprim by 5,000% overnight, as the New York Times detailed in 2015. The fraud case against him was unrelated to the price-gouging scandal.
Smythe covered the federal investigation of Shkreli as a legal reporter for Bloomberg and she was the first reporter to break the news when he was arrested in December 2015. Her relationship with the “pharma bro” grew after he was locked up. She visited Shkreli in prison for several months and eventually decided to leave her husband. Smythe opened up about her decisions in an expansive tell-all with ELLE magazine.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Christie Smythe Continues to Defend Shkreli on Social Media Even Though He Is Now Ignoring Her
Smythe has not seen Shkreli in-person for more than a year due to coronavirus restrictions, she explained to ELLE. But they are also not communicating via email or over the phone anymore. According to the magazine, Shkreli stopped talking to Smythe after learning that she wanted to take the story of their relationship public.
As ELLE reporter Stephanie Clifford wrote, she contacted Shkreli for his side of the story after interviewing Smythe. Shkreli responded to Clifford’s request with a short statement that reads as if it was written by an attorney: “Mr. Shkreli wishes Ms. Smythe the best of luck in her future endeavors.” Clifford asked Smythe for a reaction to that statement and Clifford shared her own observation:
I can’t gauge Shkreli’s motive, and ask Smythe what she thinks. “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”—she sighs—“will fork.” She tears up, and I think about what her journalism professor said, about everyone having an agenda. Watching Smythe, I finally realize her motive for telling her story. She wants Shkreli, and hopes putting their love on the record might at last give her some power in the relationship. “He bounces between this delight in having a future life together and this fatalism about how it will never work,” Smythe says. “It’s definitely in the latter category now.” Sitting in her basement apartment, her eyes wet, her voice quavering, she says she will continue to wait for him while he serves the remaining years of his sentence: “I’m gonna try,” she says. “I’ll be here.”
The article was published online on December 20. In the hours after it went live, Smythe expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share her story. She wrote on Twitter on December 21, “Thank you again to @ELLEmagazine for letting me tell my crazy tale. It takes bravery, too, to publish it. It still amazes me HOW HARD it is to get a story as messy and complicated as this to see the light of day. But it’s out now. At least that’s done.”
Smythe has also continued to defend Shkreli and her romantic feelings for him. She tweeted on December 20, “I realize it’s hard for many people to accept that 1. Martin is not a psychopath, and 2. a woman can choose to do something with her life (which does not affect you) that you in no way approve of. But that’s OK.” She added in a follow-up tweet, “I’ve lived in New York for 12 years. I’ve seen (and dated) far more narcissistic people than Martin.”
2. Shkreli’s Lawyer Warned Him Against Getting Romantically Involved With a Journalist & Smythe’s Professor Cautioned That Shkreli Was Manipulating Her for Positive Coverage
People close to Smythe and Shkreli warned both of them against getting too involved with each other. Shkreli’s attorney, Ben Brafman, told the New York Post he warned his client that getting involved romantically with a journalist, especially one who was reporting on his case, was a bad idea.
“My suspicion was, yes, that there was a relationship,” Brafman told the newspaper. “Let’s just say that I talked to him about it and tried to explain that this relationship with a journalist who was essentially writing a book about the trial, a book about him, was not a great idea. But you know, I was his lawyer. I wasn’t his guardian.” Smythe shared the Post’s story on Twitter and confirmed it was true.
Brafman further acknowledged that he had cautioned Shkreli against communicating with Smythe over email while he was behind bars because “the government gets to see all of his e-mail.” Smythe touched on those emails in the interview with ELLE. Smythe explained that while Shkreli was awaiting sentencing, prosecutors cited emails the two had exchanged to prove Shkreli felt no remorse. ELLE reported, “Smythe remembers Shkreli telling her that his lawyer opined that the emails had added two years to his sentence, which Smythe says she feels sick about to this day.”
Smythe was also warned against getting too close to Shkreli. Smythe took a break from covering Shkreli’s case when she enrolled at Columbia University in 2016 for a graduate degree in journalism. Her professor, Michael Shapiro, told ELLE that Smythe wrote about how Shkreli manipulated reporters in a paper for his class.
At the time, Smythe was also thinking about writing a book about Shkreli. Shapiro said he warned Smythe that Shkreli was toying with her in order to make her feel “grateful for access” and that such a relationship would put her “at a profound disadvantage as a reporter.” Smythe told ELLE that Shapiro specifically warned her, “You’re going to ruin your life” but that felt she could control the situation.
3. Smythe’s Marriage Crumbled as She Continued to Report on Shkreli
Smythe did not identify her husband by name in the interview with ELLE but said he worked in investment management in New York City. They started dating in 2009, tied the knot in 2014 and, in Smythe’s words, they “had the perfect little Brooklyn life.”
In the ELLE piece, Smythe described how Shkreli would essentially play a cat-and-mouse game with her by promising on-the-record interviews before taking his story to one of her competitors. Smythe’s husband expressed concern early on that Shkreli was detrimental to his wife’s professional reputation. He warned Smythe that Shkreli was “using” her and that she was “getting too sucked into this bad person.”
Smythe explained to ELLE that she and her husband’s first couples counseling session took place on the same day that she visited Shkreli in jail for the first time in November 2017. A judge revoked Shkreli’s bond and ordered him detained before the sentencing hearing after Shkreli had publicly offered $5,000 to anyone who could get a strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair, CNBC reported. (Clinton had criticized Shkreli over the drug price gouging at his pharmaceutical company). Smythe’s visit with Shkreli at the jail made her nearly an hour late for the counseling session with her husband.
After Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison, Smythe defended him on social media and would criticize other reporters for their stories about him. As Smythe explained to ELLE, management at Bloomberg did not look kindly on her online activity and told her it was unprofessional. Smythe said she resigned after her editor called her into a meeting with an HR representative to discuss her tweets. According to her LinkedIn profile, Smythe stopped working at Bloomberg in August 2018.
The tension in Smythe’s marriage escalated after she left her job at Bloomberg News. She told ELLE that she and her husband fought more often and eventually decided to get a divorce.
4. Smythe Suggested Shkreli Could Live With Her If a Judge Granted Him Early Release From Prison
Shkreli’s attorneys tried to get him out of prison early as the coronavirus spread in the United States. According to NPR, his legal team argued that if allowed out of prison, Shkreli would be able to work on finding a cure for COVID-19. U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto denied the request and wrote in her ruling that Shkreli was simply continuing to demonstrate “delusional self-aggrandizing behavior” that had influenced his prison sentence.
Smythe told ELLE that she played a role in trying to get Shkreli out of prison. She said she wrote a letter to the judge, identified herself as Shkreli’s romantic partner and suggested he live with her upon release. Shkreli’s lawyers referred to Smythe as their client’s fiancee, ELLE reported.
According to Smythe, she and Shkreli had discussed starting a life together after he got out of prison. She told ELLE that they said “I love you” for the first time after she quit Blomberg and she and her husband had decided to divorce. Smythe described a detail that sticks out from their first kiss: she said the room smelled like chicken wings.
Smythe told ELLE she froze her eggs in anticipation of having children with Shkreli in the future after he recommended that she do so. She said they also talked about a prenuptial agreement.
5. Smythe Worked for Various Newspapers Before Moving to New York City in 2008
Smythe grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. According to her LinkedIn profile, she attended St. Teresa’s Academy, which is an all-girls Catholic school. An annual report of school donors lists Smythe as being part of the class of 2001.
Smythe earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri in 2005. She worked for newspapers in Massachusetts and Arizona early in her career. Her former boss at the Arizona Daily Star, Tim Stellar, defended her on social media amid the Shrekli revelation. Stellar wrote on Twitter, “I’ve known @ChristieSmythe quite a while now, since hiring her at the @tucsonstar in 2007. You know what? I trust her to make her own decisions, whether it be in her personal life or participating in this self-revealing story by @stephcliff.”
Smythe made the move to New York City in 2008 and accepted a job as a reporter and editor with Portfolio Media. She was hired at Bloomberg in June 2012. She wrote on LinkedIn that in her role, she was “based in Brooklyn federal court, and I covered legal and regulatory issues involving companies and business people. I also covered actions by state attorneys general and the Department of Justice.”
Smythe now works as an assistant managing editor at the Academic Times.