Split verdict could still mean considerable prison time for the one-time high-flying Silicon Valley entrepreneur
In a trial generating unprecedented interest among clinical laboratory scientists, former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty in federal court this week on four charges of defrauding investors.
Holmes faces up to 20 years in prison as well as a fine of $250,000 plus restitution for each count, though sentencing experts predict a much lighter sentence for the 37-year-old whose birth of her first child caused one of multiple delays in the start of the three-month-long trial.
“I suspect she may get five to seven years in prison,” Justin Paperny, Founder of federal prison consultancy White Collar Advice, told Fortune. However, Paperny said Holmes will be unlikely to be eligible for early release in federal prison beyond a 15% reduction in prison time for good behavior.
“There is no real mechanism to really aggressively advance your release date in federal prison,” Paperny told Fortune.
Holmes was acquitted on four counts, while the jury failed to reach a decision on three counts. Judge Edward J. Davila of the US District Court, Northern District of California, who presided over the trial, will sentence Holmes at a later date. Holmes is expected to be allowed to remain free on bail until sentencing.
Trial Delays Due to Pandemic, Holmes’ Pregnancy
According to ABC News, Holmes “expressed no visible emotion as the verdicts were read.” She did not respond to questions about the verdict as she left the courtroom and walked to a nearby hotel where she has stayed during seven days of jury deliberations.
“The jurors in this 15-week trial navigated a complex case amid a pandemic and scheduling obstacle,” US Attorney of the Northern District of California, Stephanie Hinds, told reporters Monday evening, according to ABC News. “I thank the jurors for their thoughtful and determined service that ensured verdicts could be reached. The guilty verdicts in this case reflect Ms. Holmes’ culpability in this large-scale investor fraud, and she must now face sentencing for her crimes.”
The decision followed an often-delayed trial in which the prosecution put 29 witnesses on the stand, most of whom reinforced the government’s contention that Holmes defrauded investors and patients as she worked to bring to market Theranos’ “revolutionary” Edison finger-prick blood-testing device. The prosecution also presented emails, text messages, and other documents that it said were evidence of Holmes’ deceptions.
Dark Daily covered all of this in multiple ebriefings, including the potential that the four CLIA-laboratory directors who held the top laboratory position in Theranos’ lab during Holmes’ tenure as CEO might be held accountable for their actions or inactions on some level.
Details of Charges and Guilty Verdicts against Holmes
According to the Mercury News, the jury returned guilty verdicts on four counts facing Holmes:
Count 1: Guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud against Theranos investors. This charge accused Holmes and Chief Operating Officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, of “knowingly and intentionally” soliciting payments from investors with false statements about Theranos’ technology, its business partnerships, and its financial model.
Count 6: Guilty of wire fraud in connection with a 2014 investment of $38,336,632 made by PFM Health Sciences of San Francisco. Brian Grossman, PFM’s Chief Investment Officer, testified that his team was told Theranos had brought in more than $200 million in revenue, “mostly from the Department of Defense.” In realty, 2011 revenue came in at $518,000 and the company had no revenue in 2012 or 2013, according to Theranos’ former head of accounting.
Count 7: Guilty of wire fraud in connection with an October 2014 investment of $99,999,984 made by a firm associated with the family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Managing Director, Global Private Equity at Ottawa Avenue Private Capital, Lisa Peterson testified Holmes claimed Theranos’ technology was in use “on military helicopters,” and sent a report with a Pfizer logo touting the “superior performance” and accuracy of Theranos’ machines. The logo and follow-up questioning, Peterson said, led her to conclude that the report was prepared by Pfizer, which was false.
Count 8: Guilty of wire fraud in connection with an October 2014 investment of $5,999,997 from a company involving Daniel Mosely, the long-time lawyer for former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Mosely testified he also was led to believe Pfizer had approved Theranos’ technology. In a letter to Kissinger, he called the report “the most extensive evidence supplied regarding the reliability of the Theranos technology and its applications.”
Holmes Intentionally Defrauded Investors, Prosecution Argued
The jury of eight men and four women began deliberations on December 20 after closing arguments in the nearly four-month-long trial in San Jose, California. Holmes originally faced 12 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. One count was dropped during the trial.
During a blistering three-hour closing argument, Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Schenk hammered home the prosecution’s contention that Holmes choose to deceive investors and patients rather than admit failure in her quest to revolutionize healthcare by delivering a blood-testing device capable of running up to 200 laboratory tests using a finger-prick of blood.
“Ms. Holmes made the decision to defraud her investors, and then to defraud patients,” Schenk told jurors, according to CNBC. “She chose fraud over business failure. She chose to be dishonest with investors and with patients.”
The defense team put three witnesses on the stand, with Holmes emerging as a surprise witness in her own defense. She maintained she never intended to defraud anyone and instead relied on experts within her company for the claims she made about Theranos’ blood-testing device. During her seven days of testimony, she also alleged emotional, physical, and sexual abuse by Balwani. Balwani has denied in legal filings Holmes’ abuse allegations.
Holmes Wanted to “Change the World,” Defense Claims
In his closing argument, defense attorney Kevin Downey maintained Holmes’ intent was not to deceive but to “change the world.”
“At the end of the day, the question you’re really asking yourself is, ‘What was Ms. Holmes’ intent?'” Downey told jurors, according to Business Insider, “Was she trying to defraud people?”
The jury’s answer: “Yes.”
Clinical laboratory directors and pathologists will soon learn the price Holmes will pay for her deceptions when she is sentenced in coming weeks. Meanwhile, the start of Balwani’s fraud trial has been postponed to February 15, according to Bloomberg News.
—Andrea Downing Peck