Martin Shkreli's Wu-Tang Clan Album "Once Upon A Time In Shaolin" Could Be Seized By The Government
According to court documents filed Thursday, the U.S. government wants to seize the Wu-Tang Clan album that Martin Shkreli, the imprisoned former pharmaceuticals CEO, is believed to possess. Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy in August, and is currently in a maximum security prison awaiting sentencing.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors asked a judge to seize $7.4 million in assets from Shkreli, arguing that the amount is "a conservative computation of the proceeds Shkreli personally obtained as a result of his three different securities fraud crimes of conviction." (Shkreli's attorney disputes this, telling BuzzFeed News that "Martin did not personally benefit from any of the counts of conviction.")
As part of its forfeiture claim, the government wants to seize "Once Upon A Time In Shaolin," the one-of-a-kind album Wu-Tang Clan album that Shkreli reportedly purchased from the group for $2 million, as well as several other valuable items Shkreli is known to own.
Shkreli became an internet pariah in 2015 for increasing the price of a life-saving HIV medication from $14 to $750 per pill. His fraud and conspiracy convictions, however, don't stem from that episode, but rather to his conduct as a hedge fund manager and CEO of a different company, Retrophin. In August, a jury convicted Shkreli of defrauding investors by lying to them about the value of their investments in his funds. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
Shkreli was initially released on a $5 million bail. While out on bail, he offered a $5,000 bounty on Facebook to anybody who could "grab a hair" from Hillary Clinton during the former secretary of state's book tour. This resulted in a judge revoking his bail and sending him to the Metropolitan Detention Center. As part of its assets forfeiture claim, the Justice Department said that it will keep the $5 million bond Shkreli posted before his bail was revoked.
"Once Upon A Time In Shaolin" has been the source of controversy ever since it was announced in 2014. Fans were initially disappointed when Wu-Tang decided to only release one copy of the album, with group leader RZA explaining that it would be auctioned off to the higher bidder in an attempt to "inspire creation and originality and debate, and save the music album from dying."
Shkreli won that auction, paid a reported $2 million for the unique album, and promised to release it if Donald Trump won the presidential election. He didn't make good on his promise, however, and instead played just 10 minutes of the album over streaming video while talking over the music.
Later, the album became the focus of two multi-million-dollar lawsuits and, additionally, allegations that it might not be an actual Wu-Tang Clan album after all. Several artists who rapped on the album claim that they were misled during their recording sessions, weren't told they were contributing to a Wu-Tang album and, perhaps most importantly, weren't given a cut of the $2 million Shkreli paid for it. Founding member U-God has sued RZA for unpaid royalties and told Bloomberg that it's "not an authorized Wu-Tang Clan album. In addition, an illustrator who says his art was used in the album's liner notes without his permission also sued, although that case was settled.
It's still not a sure thing that the government will end up with "Once Upon A Time In Shaolin," however. For one, the judge may side with Shkreli and refuse to grant the assets forfeiture claim. Moreover, it's not clear that Shkreli still has the album: He put it up for auction on eBay in September, and it sold for a little over $1 million — while Shkreli was in jail. It is unknown who currently possesses "Once Upon A Time In Shaolin," although HipHopDX presented some circumstantial evidence in September suggesting that Shkreli probably still has it.
If that's the case — and if the forfeiture claim is approved — the government will take the album and, as is standard after assets seizures, auction it off to the highest bidder. If someone else has it, though, the government can't take it, and it will, presumably, remain unheard to the world.