When Martin Shkreli was arrested by federal agents for fraud this morning, the first thought in your head was probably something along the lines of “The fucker deserves it.” The second might have been “But what’s going to happen to Once Upon a Time in Shaolin?” So far, the answer is “nothing.”
The hoodie-wearing price gouger stormed back into the public consciousness when it was announced that he had purchased the new Wu-Tang Clan album for a purported $2 million. Only one copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin exists, and the group auctioned it off to the highest bidder, who happened to be Shkreli.
The indictment against the most hated man on the internet included a section announcing that the government would seek forfeiture “of any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to any such offenses.” Would the Wu-Tang record be seized? One man has already filed a FOIA request for a copy of Shaolin, and the Atlantic’s David Graham devoted a post this morning to wondering whether it would be eligible for forfeiture. At a press conference this morning, U.S. Attorney Robert Capers declined to comment about whether the album had been seized.
But Kelly Langmesser, and FBI spokesperson, told a Gawker reporter that there was “no seizure” at Shkreli’s midtown apartment this morning. When asked to clarify that the Wu-Tang album specifically had not been taken, she confirmed that it had not. (It’s possible that the record wasn’t even in the apartment—when Businessweek broke the news of the sale earlier this month, Shkreli hadn’t even heard Shaolin yet, and it’s unclear whether he’s even taken delivery of the physical album.)
It’s also possible that Shaolin will be taken by the feds at a later date. The indictment specifies that property might be seized from Shkreli upon conviction, and he’s only just been arrested this morning. However, Penn law professor Louis Rulli, the asset forfeiture expert whom Graham consulted with, told him it’s unlikely that the record could be directly connected to allegedly ill-begotten funds, a necessary clause for seizing it. “The government would need to either demonstrate that the property represented the direct proceeds of illegal activity or that there is a nexus—a substantial connection—between the underlying criminal offense with which he is charged and the property the government wishes to seize (and ultimately forfeit)...I suspect that it would be very hard for the government in this case to directly tie the album (or its purchase funds) to the underlying offense,” Rulli said.
Where is Once Upon a Time in Shaolin? What will become of it? We don’t know for sure. But we know that it isn’t sitting in an FBI evidence room in Manhattan—not yet, anyway.