Pregnant former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes makes her first court appearance in 15 months as pre-trial maneuvering continues in court case involving clinical laboratory tests
During pre-trial hearings for the August fraud trial of former Theranos CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, federal prosecutors signaled that the accuracy of Theranos’ blood tests will be center stage in their arguments. This latest installment in the continuing saga of defunct medical laboratory testing company Theranos took place when a now-pregnant Holmes made her first in-person court appearance in 15 months.
Clinical laboratory scientists have watched with interest as the often-delayed fraud trial inched closer to its new August 31 start date. After being delayed multiple times by the COVID-19 pandemic, United States District Court Judge Edward Davila ruled in March that the trial would be postponed from mid-July to late August due to Holmes’ pregnancy. She is due to give birth in July.
Do Prosecutors Lack Proof Theranos’ Blood Testing Technology Is Inaccurate?
As Dark Daily previously reported, Holmes faces 12 counts of wire fraud charges for alleged false claims that Theranos created a revolutionary technology for performing a wide range of clinical laboratory tests using a tiny amount of blood.
In its 2015 investigative report, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) alleged Theranos had not disclosed publicly that the vast majority of its tests were performed with traditional machines purchased from Siemens AG and other companies, not its so-called breakthrough proprietary technology.
The recent three-day hearing provided Holmes’ attorneys and federal prosecutors with an opportunity to present arguments regarding what evidence can be presented at the upcoming trial.
In a recent article, the WSJ reported that Holmes’ attorneys argued the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California built its case on anecdotal evidence.
According to the WSJ article, Holmes’ defense team is trying to block the government from calling patients and medical professionals to testify about the accuracy of Theranos’ blood test results. At the hearing, attorney Amy Saharia, a Williams and Connolly LLP partner, maintained prosecutors lack scientific proof Theranos tests were inaccurate. She called this lack of scientific evidence a “gigantic hole” in the government’s case.
“This trial is going to be a sprawling mess of irrelevant, prejudicial evidence,” she told the court, the WSJ reported.
Saharia added, “We have all become very familiar with testing this year. Testing involves many different variables,” CNBC reported. “What the government offers is without scientific basis, they have to establish Theranos technology was responsible for erroneous results. Just because it happened doesn’t mean it was because of Theranos technology.”
Defense Tries to Block Pathologists’ Testimony
During the second day of hearings, federal prosecutors responded to defense attorneys’ efforts to block clinical pathologist Stephen Master, MD, PhD, from testifying. Defense attorneys argued the government is using Master as a “parrot” and argue his views on Theranos’ blood tests are “based on emails and customer complaints” not personal familiarity with the tests, CNBC reported. Master is Division Chief and Director, Metabolic and Advanced Diagnostics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and an Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.
Assistant US Attorney Robert Leach, however, said, “Miss Holmes went out, told the world and told investors: we have tests with the highest accuracy rate,” adding that testimony from their expert witness “puts the lie to that,” CNBC reported.
Before Theranos was dissolved in 2018, Holmes rose to rock star status in Silicon Valley. She graced magazine covers, rubbed elbows with VIPs, and became known for her Steve Jobs-like signature black turtleneck.
In his summary of Holmes’ 2016 presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Chemistry (AACC), titled, “After AACC Presentation, Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos Failed to Convince Clinical Laboratory Scientists and the News Media about Quality of Its Technology,” Robert Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report, wrote, “It would be safe to summarize most reactions as skeptical.”
Holmes’ presentation, Michel noted, was met with suspicion as her credibility with the media and clinical laboratory scientists eroded. “Holmes did not fool many in the audience.”
One clinical chemist who attended the AACC meeting said, “I came to see scientific data about this remarkable technology that could do up to 70 medical laboratory tests on a single drop of capillary blood. Instead, I heard her talk about the new corporate strategy at Theranos, including the details as to how their analyzer works. The data that followed had nothing to do with anything but their new analyzer.”
Prosecutors Claim Fraud Paid for Holmes’ Extravagant Lifestyle
Holmes’ celebrity status helped fuel Theranos’ rapid valuation growth, which reached a high of $10 billion in 2015. But her gold-plated lifestyle became a point of contention during the recent pre-trial hearing. Prosecutors maintained that Theranos’ fraud propelled Holmes’ extravagant spending.
“In addition to her salary, the company provided for her luxurious travel on private jets and expensive lodging,” Assistant US Attorney John Bostic told CNBC. “The point here is the so-called success of Theranos was entirely the product of fraud.”
But according to CNBC, the judge “pushed back” on the government’s argument, stating Holmes’ benefits likely were on par with other CEOs. “What’s the value that she’s at the Four Seasons or a Motel 6?” the judge asked the prosecutors.
CNBC reported the two sides also sparred over whether jurors will learn about Holmes’ private text messages and regulatory reports.
Holmes and former Theranos President and Chief Operating Officer Ramesh Balwani have both pleaded not guilty. Balwani will face a separate trial after Holmes’ court case concludes.
Clinical laboratory scientists will watch with interest as the Holmes and Balwani trials finally get under way, since the accuracy of Theranos’ blood tests will be under the microscope along with Holmes’ participation in the alleged fraud.
—Andrea Downing Peck
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