A Cat 5 PR shitstorm hit Miami's Tri-Source Pharma late last year after the Wall Street Journal published a story showing the company had raised the price of a cancer drug more than 1,400 percent. Some internet commenters were quick to compare Tri-Source CEO Robert DiCrisci to Martin Shkreli, the now-convicted "pharma bro" who in 2015 jacked up the price of Daraprim, a drug used by HIV patients. One particularly angry Twitter user went as far as to call DiCrisci "the human equivalent of a loaded cat litter box."
Now the Miami pharmaceutical startup has filed a defamation lawsuit against a handful of those anonymous online critics. The company claims the comments were defamatory and ultimately hurt its bottom line.
"As a result of [the] libelous statements, Tri-Source has suffered damages, reputational and otherwise, in an amount to be determined at trial," alleges the lawsuit, filed February 5 in Miami-Dade circuit court.
The complaint comes as DiCrisci faces a legal case accusing him of sexual harassment and mismanagement of company funds. In September, two former business partners, Steven Schafer and Christopher Yankana, sued DiCrisci, who they say gave a $73,000 raise to his assistant in exchange for sexual favors and expensed more than $15,000 at strip clubs. (DiCrisci has denied any impropriety; the case is pending in Miami-Dade civil court.)
In the new court filings, it's clear the CEO suspects his former associates are responsible for some of the critical online posts. Though Schafer and Yankana have denied making the remarks,
"The company feels it’s been unjustly maligned and damaged with defamatory and libelous allegations perpetrated by anonymous sources," Tri-Source spokesman Todd Templin tells New Times. "We are doing what we believe is necessary to try to determine who is behind the comments and hold them responsible for their harmful actions."
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In particular, the lawsuit objects to tweets by @truthbetold1989 and @FYIGuy00 that accused DiCrisci of "taking advantage of sick people" and "stealing from the poor to give to the rich." The company is also seeking a subpoena to determine who sent an email to one of its largest customers asking it to cut ties with Tri-Source. (New Times attempted to reach the owner of the Gmail account listed in the complaint for comment but received a message saying it was no longer active.)
Though the eight-page complaint doesn't explain exactly how specific statements were libelous, the company's legal team refers to the anonymous posts as "a coordinated, targeted smear campaign." In January, Tri-Source's former counsel, Joseph DeMaria, denied accusations of price gouging and said the company makes only a 10 percent profit on Gleostine, a drug to treat brain cancer that the Wall Street Journal says rose from $50 a pill to $768 under Tri-Source's purview. Asked for more details Wednesday, Templin, the company's spokesman, declined to provide New Times with a breakdown of the raw costs.
"We have previously stated the factors that influence the pricing of our product and would refer you to those comments already on the record," he said in a statement. (The company previously said the price increase was a reflection of rising manufacturing costs and regulatory burdens.)
It's now up to a judge to determine whether to grant the company the subpoena power to unmask the online commenters. As of this week, no hearing has been set.