No explanation for the delay was provided by court after nine weeks of testimony in the prosecution of the former clinical laboratory executive
Former Theranos president/chief operating officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani’s often-delayed fraud trial was scheduled to resume on May 27 with a full day of defense witness testimony. It will now be delayed until June 7.
According to NBC Bay Area, a court assistant announced the delay but did not provide a reason for the postponement. A copy of the clerk’s notice posted on Twitter by Law360 also provided no further details. Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers must now wait several more months to learn what may be next revealed in testimony during this trial.
It is also yet one more delay in Balwani’s trial. His original trial date was January 2022 before being rescheduled for February. The needs for COVID-19 pandemic protocols further delayed the start multiple times until opening arguments began March 22 in a federal court room in San Jose, Calif.
One part of the trial has concluded. On May 20, the government rested its case against Balwani, who faces 12 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud while serving as second in command at Theranos, the now defunct Silicon Valley medical laboratory startup.
According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), nine weeks of testimony in US District Court in San Jose, Calif., included testimony from 24 witnesses. Prosecutors aimed to convince jurors Balwani controlled much of the day-to-day decision-making at Theranos and was a full participant in the fraud scheme.
NBC Bay Area stated prosecutors worked to link Balwani to two key decisions:
- The rollout of the failed Edison blood testing device in Walgreens, and
- The company’s improper use of the Pfizer logo on a report to Walgreens executives that appeared to validate Theranos’ technology.
Before this latest postponement, Balwani’s attorneys had begun their client’s defense by putting a naturopathic physician from Arizona on the stand. The witness testified to sending more than 150 patients to Theranos and to using the company’s blood tests for herself, the WSJ reported.
In addition, Jeffrey Coopersmith, JD, one of Balwani’s attorneys and Partner at Orrick Herrington and Sutcliffe, LLP, made a verbal motion for an acquittal at the conclusion of the government’s case, which the judge deferred.
Prosecution Strategy Angers Theranos Customers
Bloomberg reported that prosecutors followed the previous outline used to gain the conviction of Elizabeth Holmes, founder and former CEO of Theranos, with many of the same witnesses from her trial reappearing on the stand to testify in the Balwani trial.
Prosecutors primarily focused their case on the injury to investors, which has angered some former Theranos customers.
“I feel like I belong to a group of people who were on the receiving end of a crime,” said Erin Tompkins—a Theranos customer who testified against both Holmes and Balwani—outside the courthouse shortly after finishing her testimony in the Balwani case, Bloomberg reported.
“Despite the dedication and support of prosecutors, patient witnesses have been treated as peripheral” compared to the investors, Tompkins told Bloomberg. “We were defrauded because we trusted them with our blood and however many dollars for the test. But we weren’t robbed of millions of dollars.”
Susanna Stefanek, editorial manager at Apple Inc. who served on the Holmes jury, told Bloomberg, “[The prosecution] didn’t really prove that these patients were persuaded to get these blood tests by something she said or did, or even the advertising. The connection between Elizabeth Holmes and the patients was not that strong to us.”
Proving Patient Fraud
Michael Weinstein, JD, a former federal prosecutor turned Chair of White-Collar Litigation and Government at Cole Schotz in New Jersey, told Bloomberg that to convict Balwani of patient fraud, prosecutors must prove Balwani knew what was going on inside Theranos and that his misrepresentations caused patients to suffer.
“The government wants to show there was an inconsistency between what he was learning internally versus what he was saying externally,” Weinstein said.
With the Balwani trial likely to conclude this month, clinical laboratory directors and pathologists who have closely followed Theranos’ rise and fall should prepare for the final chapter in the saga.
—Andrea Downing Peck