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.”
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.
Pathologist Kingshuk Das, MD, tells jurors he voided 50,000 to 60,000 blood-tests from a two-year period due to unreliable results
As the prosecution in the criminal fraud trial of ex-CEO Elizabeth Holmes closes in on resting its case, a fourth and final former Theranos laboratory director took the stand to describe the problems he encountered when overseeing the startup’s medical laboratory operations.
Los Angeles, Calif., board-certified clinical pathologist Kingshuk Das, MD, testified that he reported directly to Holmes and repeatedly warned her about problems and errors with the company’s Edison blood-testing technology, CNBC reported. While describing the proprietary technology’s reliability issues, Das spoke of one conversation with Holmes in which he pointed out that female patients were receiving test results showing abnormal levels of prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, which typically is associated with the male prostate gland.
“Females should generally not have PSA detectable,” Das said during testimony. He “recalled that Holmes offered an alternate explanation, citing ‘an article or two’ claiming rare breast cancers might cause PSA results in women,” CNBC reported.
Assistant US Attorney Robert Leach, JD then asked Das, “Was that explanation satisfying to you?”
“It seemed implausible,” Das replied.
According to CNBC, Das—who worked at Theranos from March 2016 until June 2018—testified that he “voided every test on the Edison devices from 2014 and 2015” and that he had “explained to Holmes that ‘these instruments were not performing from the very beginning.’
During his testimony, Das explained, “I tried to present it in a more understandable format. I recall [Holmes] offering an alternative explanation,” CNBC reported.
Das testified that “Holmes told him it wasn’t an instrument failure but rather a quality control and quality assurance issue,” CNBC reported.
According to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), corrected reports were issued to doctors for an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 voided results.
CMS Audit: Theranos Lab Posed ‘Immediate Jeopardy to Patient Health and Safety’
The CMS report stated, “As a result of the survey, it was determined that your facility is not in compliance with all of the conditions required for certification in the CLIA program. … The deficient practices of the laboratory pose immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety,” CNBC reported.
Das is the fourth Theranos laboratory director to take the stand. He joined the startup in 2016 and was laid off in 2018.
Previous reporting in Dark Daily and our sister publication The Dark Report covered court testimony from the three lab directors who preceded Das (click on names to be taken to those stories):
Lynette Sawyer, DPH, who told jurors she never set foot inside Theranos’ lab while serving as co-director;
Sunil Dhawan, MD, who was former Theranos Chief Operating Officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani’s personal dermatologist, and who while Theranos’ lab director worked a total of five to 10 hours and only went to the lab twice; and,
Rosendorff provided some of the trial’s most explosive news when it was revealed that he was the whistleblower behind The Wall Street Journal’s exposé into Theranos that first raised questions about the startup’s technology and operations.
Defense Claims Holmes Did Not Intentionally Mislead Investors
As noted in The Verge, Holmes’ defense strategy centers on convincing jurors she did not intentionally mislead investors, patients, physicians, and clinical laboratories about Theranos’ proprietary technology, but that she simply failed to achieve the goals she set for Theranos.
“Trying your hardest and coming up short is not a crime,” defense lawyer Lance Wade, JD, told jurors in his opening statement, The Verge reported. “And by the time this trial is over, you will see that the villain the government just presented is actually a living, breathing human being who did her very best each and every day. And she is innocent,” Wade added.
While Holmes is not expected to take the stand in her own defense, prosecutors used her own words against her last month when they played audiotapes for the jury of telephone calls Holmes made to investors in 2013. According to KRON4-TV in San Francisco, Holmes told investors Theranos’ revenues would reach $140 million in revenue in 2014, though the company had not recorded any revenue the two prior years.
“It’s very powerful testimony when you can use the defendant’s own words, and these audiotapes can incriminate her,” Hagan said.
Holmes, 37, faces maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and a $2.75 million fine if convicted of two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of fraud, plus possible restitution, the Department of Justice has said. Balwani’s criminal fraud trial is scheduled to begin in January 2022.
With the prosecution just inches away from resting its case, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists will not have to wait long to learn if Holmes’ defense team mounts a defense against fraud charges or allows the case to be turned over to the jury.
Jury also heard testimony about Holmes’ claims that the Edison device was doing clinical laboratory testing for the military in overseas theaters
During the seventh week of ex-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes’ criminal fraud trial, headline-making testimony continued nearly non-stop. A former Theranos product manager took the stand offering damning testimony that tied Holmes to questionable product demonstrations and exaggerated claims about the military’s use of the Edison blood-testing device. And a Pfizer scientist testified to alleged improper use of the Pfizer logo by Theranos in a report that went to Walgreen executives.
CNN reported that former Senior Product Manager Daniel Edlin, who worked at Theranos from 2011-2016, acknowledged in court that the Edison device had never been used in a war zone or installed on a medivac helicopter. He also noted that Holmes had final say over his communications with the DOD.
According to CNN, “Edlin said he worked directly with Holmes to support the relationships with the military and Defense Department. He said, ‘the end goal’ for these discussions ‘was to start a research program that would compare Theranos’ testing to the testing available to the military at that time.”
Edlin testified that Holmes was ‘highly involved’ with these communications, CNN reported.
“I’d say any substantive communication I had with the military, I either discussed with her ahead of time … or email drafts were reviewed and approved before I sent them back out,” he testified.
During cross examination, Edlin walked back some of his damaging testimony. When asked by defense attorney Kevin Downey, JD, of Williams and Connelly, LLP, if he or anyone else at Theranos was intentionally trying to deceive investors or other visitors during the demonstrations, Edlin responded, “Of course not,” according to Palo Alto Online.
To counter the prosecution’s claims that Theranos’ Edison machines were unsuitable for military use because they could not operate in high temperatures, Downey introduced an email from an Army doctor at the US Command in Africa praising the Edison after examining it in high temperatures. The doctor also, according to court documents, proposed the Army provide more funding to test the Edison’s capabilities, Palo Alto Online reported.
Nevertheless, according to The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the Edison was never sent to a US military laboratory in Afghanistan for study, nor was it used in Africa to run blood tests.
Former Pfizer Scientist Testifies to Misuse of Intellectual Property
In another broadside to the Holmes defense, former Pfizer scientist Shane Weber, PhD, testified Holmes used the Pfizer logo in investor materials without the company’s permission in order to pass off as credible a study aimed at validating the Edison device.
The WSJ reported Weber told jurors that in 2008 he had reviewed a 15-page Theranos study involving cancer patients, but that he had stated in his own internal report to Pfizer at that time that nine conclusions in the study—including a statement that the “Theranos system performed with superior performance”—were “not believable.” Pfizer eventually heeded Weber’s advice to not enter into a partnership with Theranos.
Prosecutors stated that as part of Theranos’ negotiations with Walgreens, which ultimately invested $140 million in the blood-testing company, Holmes had placed a Pfizer logo on the top of each page of the cancer study report before sending it to Walgreens executives, claiming it was an independent due-diligence report on Theranos technology.
Weber told jurors that he had not known about the altered report until he was shown the document by prosecutors. He stated the logo was added without Pfizer’s permission, the WSJ reported.
Unfortunately for Walgreens, the retail pharmacy chain entered into a business agreement with Theranos without extensively examining or testing the Edison device, which Theranos had claimed could quickly and accurately run 200 diagnostic tests using a finger-stick of blood. Instead, the company relied on the opinions of its own staff healthcare experts and outside experts, none of whom fully tested the technology either, the WSJ stated.
Testimony in the Elizabeth Holmes fraud trial is expected to continue through December. Therefore, clinical laboratory managers and pathologists should expect headline-making news to continue as well. Dark Daily will continue its coverage as the trial moves forward.
Romantic musings between the now-defunct Theranos’ CEO and COO may be introduced to undercut Holmes’ claims of ‘intimate partner abuse’
Medical laboratory professionals did not have to wait long for the first prosecution bombshell to explode during the opening week of the federal criminal fraud trial of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes.
In court filings leading up to the September 8 trial in San Jose, Calif., Holmes’ defense team revealed plans to claim “intimate partner abuse” by Holmes’ then boyfriend, Theranos Chief Operating Officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. The plan was for Holmes to testify that Balwani threw “sharp” objects at her and controlled how she ate and dressed, impacting her “state of mind” at the time of the alleged crimes.
But prosecutors countered that claim by releasing six pages of text messages between the former couple, which took place between May 2015 and July 2015, as Theranos became the target of whistleblower accusations and a company employee who began secretly speaking to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Later that year, the WSJ published an investigative report that brought to light questions about Theranos’ blood-testing technology and the faulty clinical laboratory test results it reported to physicians and patients.
Holmes and Balwani kept their relationship hidden from the public, but their private text messages reveal intimate exchanges that likely will be introduced by prosecutors to undercut Holmes’ claims of abuse.
Within the 164 text messages were these exchanges:
“You are breeze in desert for me” [Holmes]
“My water” [Holmes]
“And ocean” [Holmes]
“Meant to be only together tiger” [Holmes]
“Madly in love with you and your strength” [Holmes later that day]
The following day:
“On route to dinner. Missing you” [Holmes]
“Missing you too” [Balwani]
“You more” [Holmes]
Balwani then turned his attention to the whistleblower within Theranos:
“I’m narrowing this down in CLIA. Down to 5 people. Will nail this mother [explicative omitted]” [Balwani]
“Who do u think” [Holmes]
“Now we have legal grounds” [Holmes]
Later Holmes texted:
“Feel like the luckiest person in the world BC I have you” [Holmes]
“We will come up with good responses to the questions and we will turn this around” [Balwani]
“We will” [Balwani]
The following month:
“Onboard. Love.” [Balwani]
“Taking off baby” [Balwani]
“Missing you” [Holmes]
“Missing you too baby. Just arrived at the office. Will prepare” [Balwani]
Does Affection Rule Out Abuse?
In San Francisco, KPIX 5 television reported that legal experts predict the texts may not have the impact in the trial that outside observers expect, since, they said, expressions of affection do not rule out the possibility of an abusive relationship, which is expected to be one aspect of Holmes’ defense strategy.
Holmes, 37, who according to court documents faces 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, is alleged to have misled investors, clinical laboratories, patients, and healthcare providers about Theranos’ proprietary blood-testing technology, which Holmes claimed could perform hundreds of medical laboratory tests using only a finger-prick of blood. If convicted, Holmes could face up to 20 years in prison, fines, and payment of restitution. She has pleaded not guilty.
Testimony of Theranos’ Corporate Controller
The prosecution opened the trial with questioning of Theranos’ longtime corporate controller Danise Spivey Yam. According to The Wall Street Journal, Yam testified she provided revenue projections to a company hired to value Theranos stock that ranged from $50 million in 2013 to nearly $132 million in 2016. Those numbers were much more modest than company projections of $140 million in revenue in 2014 and $990 million in 2015, which were given to investors.
“No,” Yam replied, adding that she hadn’t helped prepare it.
Former Theranos employee Erika Cheung, who according to court testimony worked in the company’s laboratory testing blood samples, testified that she left Theranos after six months because of concerns over Theranos’ blood-testing practices and data manipulation when machines failed quality tests.
Cheung ultimately alerted federal regulators to the company’s failure to meet industry standards and expressed her concerns about Theranos’ Edison mini-blood-lab machine.
“You’d have about the same luck flipping a coin as to whether your results were right or wrong,” Cheung testified about the accuracy of the Edison, CNBC reported. “It was concerning to see this degree of failure; this was not typical for a normal lab.”
During cross examination, CNBC noted that one of Holmes’ defense attorneys highlighted the professional qualifications of Theranos lab directors and other scientists at Theranos, including 52 scientists with PhDs and 10 medical doctors. He also noted that the validation reports for assays that Cheung had testified were problematic had been approved for lab use by a lab director and vice president, not Holmes.
With more than 200 witnesses expected to testify, the ongoing Holmes fraud trial is estimated to last three to six months. Pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists who are following the Theranos fraud trial with keen interest can look forward to more Dark Daily coverage. Click here to read our previous coverage of the Holmes/Theranos medical laboratory fraud saga.
Court documents show Holmes’ defense strategy includes accusing ex-boyfriend and former COO Balwani of ‘intimate partner abuse’ that impacted her ‘state of mind’
It has started! The long-awaited criminal trial of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes is underway in a federal courthouse in Silicon Valley. Across the profession of medical laboratory medicine, there is keen interest in the story of Holmes and her now-defunct clinical laboratory company Theranos.
This next chapter in the drama began on September 8 with opening arguments. Federal prosecutors came out strong, claiming Holmes was “a manipulative fraudster who duped investors and patients alike and knew the whole time that she was hoodwinking them,” according to NPR.
“This is a case about fraud, about lying, and cheating to get money,” said Assistant US Attorney Robert Leach, NPR reported. “It’s a crime on Main Street, and it’s a crime in Silicon Valley,” he added.
Not surprisingly, Holmes’ defense team had a different take, claiming Holmes was simply “a hardworking, young startup executive who believed in the mission of the company, only to see it buckle in the face of business obstacles,” NPR reported. “They argued that she placed blind faith in the No. 2 executive at the company [Balwani] and overly trusted lab directors, who the defense team says were legally responsible for how the labs were run.”
Holmes Claims Abuse at the Hands of Former Theranos COO Balwani
Many pathologists and clinical laboratory managers are ready to watch and learn what unfolds in the opening stages of Holmes’ long-delayed federal criminal fraud trial. During the jury selection process, recently unsealed court documents showed that Holmes’ defense planned to include claims she was abused by her then boyfriend, Theranos Chief Operating Officer Ramesh Balwani.
This surprising development adds yet another twist to the tale of the disgraced Silicon Valley executive and her defunct clinical laboratory testing company.
The hype surrounding the once-high flying startup, which in 2015 reached a peak valuation of $9 billion, began unraveling that same year when a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) investigation exposed the company’s alleged deceptions and questionable practices related to its finger-prick blood-testing technology.
Fast-forward six years—Theranos is now gone but its top executive continues to make headlines, not as a laboratory science wunderkind, but as a criminal defendant.
Holmes, 37, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Her former consort and ex-Theranos COO Ramesh Balwani also pleaded not guilty to all charges. He will be tried separately from Holmes.
Dozens of Potential Jurors Removed for Alleged Bias
On August 31, in-person questioning of prospective jurors began in Holmes’ federal fraud trial in San Jose, California. The process did not go well. As CNBC reported, dozens of potential jurors were removed from the jury pool due to potential bias in the case.
“Thirty to forty of the remaining jurors have consumed substantial, and I mean lengthy extrajudicial material, about the case and about the defendant,” defense attorney Kevin Downey, JD of Washington, D.C.-based Williams and Connolly, LLP, told Judge Edward Davila, CNBC reported. “We’re very vulnerable to any of the jurors commenting in some ways as either the court or lawyers conduct voir dire about the content of the media they’ve seen.”
Voir dire is the legal term for preliminary examinations of jurors, which in this initial screening was done by reviewing potential juror questionnaires.
Holmes’ defense attorneys, according to CNBC, previously expressed concerns about “inflammatory” media coverage of the case. However, Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Schenk maintained, “Less than half of the individuals that filled out the questionnaire had prior exposure to Holmes and Balwani. One juror saying something during the voir dire process that could be overheard is a risk in every court case,” CNBC reported.
Holmes Claims ‘Mental Condition Bearing on Guilt’
A report by the Independent notes that newly unsealed court documents which were first reported by NPR reveal that Holmes will mount a defense that includes claims of “intimate partner abuse” by Balwani, 56, during their past relationship.
“The documents show that Ms. Holmes will describe how Mr. Balwani controlled what she ate and drank, how she dressed, and who she spoke to, while also alleging he threw ‘sharp’ objects at her,” the Independent reported.
NPR reported that court documents indicate Holmes is likely to take the stand and testify at her trial. She will not be presenting an insanity defense but will put forth a “defense of a mental condition bearing on guilt” that was the result of partner abuse and that impacted her “state of mind” at the time of the alleged crimes.
Court documents filed by Balwani’s defense attorneys label Holmes’ allegations as “salacious and inflammatory.”
“In truth, Ms. Holmes’ allegations are deeply offensive to Mr. Balwani, devastating personally to him and highly and unfairly prejudicial to his defense of this case,” defense attorney Jeffrey Coopersmith, JD, Principle and founder of Coopersmith Law and Strategy, wrote in the filing.
CNBC reported that Holmes gave birth on July 10, 2021, in Redwood, California. The baby’s father is William Evans, heir to the Evans Hotels chain in California, The Sun reported.
Balwani’s criminal fraud trial is scheduled to begin with jury selection on January 11, 2022. Both Holmes and Balwani face maximum penalties of 20 years in jail and a nearly $3 million fine, plus possible restitution if found guilty on all counts.
It is a rare thing for owners of a clinical laboratory company accused of fraud to come to trial and receive so much media attention. In the weeks leading up to the trial, medical laboratory managers and pathologists could read a wide variety of news stories about the impending trial and the legal strategies expected by the attorneys for both the plaintiffs and the defendants.
Thus, everyone interested in this trial and its outcome will likely have the equivalent of a front row seat because so many journalists are covering this trial.