Founder of now defunct clinical laboratory testing company was supposed to report to prison April 27, but a last-minute legal challenge has delayed that judge’s order
Anatomic pathologists and clinical laboratory leaders who are following the continuing saga of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes may be interested to learn that the former CEO’s attorneys are making last-minute legal moves to delay her prison sentence while she appeals her guilty verdict. At the same time, Holmes appears to be on a mission to revamp her public image.
Apparently, the twists and turns in Holmes’ never-ending story are not yet over when it comes to Theranos, its maligned clinical laboratory technology, and the company’s convicted founder.
On May 7, The New York Times (NYT) profiled Holmes in a massive, 5,000-word story that attempted to portray her as a flawed businessperson who now prefers a simpler life with her partner and two young children.
“I made so many mistakes and there was so much I didn’t know and understand, and I feel like when you do it wrong, it’s like you really internalize it in a deep way,” disgraced Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes recently told The New York Times. Anatomic pathologists and clinical laboratory directors impacted by the revelation that Theranos hide the fact that its blood testing technology was faulty may not sympathize with Holmes’ position. (Photo copyright: Stuart Isett/Fortune Global Forum.)
Legal Team Secures Last-Minute Delay in Holmes’ Surrender
Holmes admitted to the news outlet that the deep voice she used in public, along with her black turtleneck sweaters, were part of a character she created.
“I believed it would be how I would be good at business and taken seriously and not taken as a little girl or a girl who didn’t have good technical ideas,” Holmes told the NYT. “Maybe people picked up on that not being authentic, since it wasn’t.”
However, on April 26, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed her surrender date until that court rules on Holmes’ latest bid to stay free while she appeals her conviction, The Washington Post reported.
Just days earlier on April 10, a district court judge ruled that Holmes would not stay free while her appeal progresses. The 9th Circuit announcement curtailed the district court ruling. It is not known when the 9th Circuit will issue a decision in the matter.
New York Times Reports on Holmes’ Change in Personality
The somewhat odd New York Times profile of Holmes varied between reflections on her past crimes and on her current personal life, where she is known as “Liz.”
“In case you’re wondering, Holmes speaks in a soft, slightly low, but totally unremarkable voice—no hint of the throaty contralto she used while running her blood-testing startup Theranos, now defunct,” the NYT reported.
Holmes still lives in California with her partner, Billy Evans (whose parents own a luxury hotel chain), and their two children: a son who is almost two years old and a daughter born in February. She works at home for a rape-crisis hotline.
Balwani, Theranos’ former President and Chief Operating Officer, began his 12-year, 11-month prison sentence on April 20 in a Southern California facility for his role in defrauding Theranos investors, KTVU TV reported. Balwani has also appealed his conviction on the 12 fraud charges.
Holmes reiterated to the NYT past statements she made in court that Balwani allegedly exerted social and sexual control over her when they both worked at Theranos and were in a romantic relationship.
“She lived by entrepreneurial tenets that she said Balwani told her she needed to follow in order to succeed,” the NYT reported. “These included not sleeping for more than five hours, going vegan, getting to the office daily by 5 a.m., no alcohol.”
“[I] deferred to [Balwani] in the areas he oversaw because I believed he knew better than I did,” including on clinical lab activities at Theranos, Holmes said.
Balwani’s attorneys dismissed Holmes’ allegations, as they have in the past.
Clinical laboratory professionals can reasonably make two broad observations from the continuing saga of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes:
Justice for healthcare crimes is often deferred for those who have influence and money.
Holmes’ image overhaul may be a last-ditch effort to sway public opinion about her, in the event that she receives a new jury trial as a result of her appeal.
Dark Daily will continue to keep you updated on further developments in this case.
Judge will decide the restitution Holmes must pay to defrauded Theranos investors at future court date; Ex-COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani to be sentenced next month
Clinical laboratory leaders and anatomic pathologists who closely followed the fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes may have wondered how the Theranos founder and ex-CEO would be punished for her crimes. Now we know.
Late into the four-hour sentencing hearing, Holmes tearfully spoke, according to a twitter post by NBC reporter Scott Budman, who was in the courtroom. “I am devastated by my failings,” Holmes said. “I have felt deep pain for what people went through because I have failed them … To investors, patients, I am sorry.”
Davila ordered Holmes to surrender to authorities on April 27 to begin her time behind bars. She is free until that time. Her upcoming prison term caps off one of the biggest downfalls ever of an American entrepreneur.
Elizabeth Holmes (above), founder and former CEO of Theranos, the now defunct clinical laboratory company, as she enters the federal courthouse in San Jose, Calif., prior to her sentencing on Friday. In January, Holmes was convicted on three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. Last summer, Theranos’ former CLIA laboratory director, pathologist Adam Rosendorff, MD, expressed remorse over his testimony which led to Holmes’ defense team requesting a new trial. The judge denied that request and allowed the sentencing of Holmes to proceed as scheduled. (Photo copyright: Jim Wilson/The New York Times.)
Defense Lawyers Plan to Appeal
Dean Johnson, JD, a California criminal defense lawyer, told NBC Bay Area News during live coverage of the hearing on Friday that Holmes’ defense team will appeal her conviction.
“I have no doubt there will be an appeal in this case,” Johnson said.
Judge Edward Davila, who oversaw Holmes’ trial and sentencing hearing in US District Court in San Jose, Calif., estimated that the total loss for Theranos investors was $121 million. Investors had committed funds to support the company’s flawed Edison blood testing technology. A separate restitution hearing for Holmes will be scheduled for a later date.
Beyond the sentencing, Holmes, 38, will be saddled by infamy for the rest of her life, with her past reputation as a charismatic innovator ruined.
“The judge [said] evidence shows Elizabeth Holmes was leader of the company, but not necessarily the leader of the criminal acts,” Budman tweeted. Those words clearly pointed to Balwani, who Holmes’ defense team had painted as exerting control over her and the company.
Prosecutors Sought a Stiffer Sentence for Holmes
Prosecutors had asked Davila to sentence Holmes to 15 years in prison, arguing that her conviction represented “one of the most substantial white collar offenses Silicon Valley or any other district has seen,” according to NBC Bay Area News, which cited court documents. The government also wanted her to pay $803 million in restitution.
Holmes’ defense team, however, wished for no prison time at all, instead asking that Holmes serve time under house arrest. “If a period of confinement is necessary, the defense suggests that a term of 18 months or less, with a subsequent supervised release period that requires community service, will amply meet that charge,” her lawyers wrote in a court filing.
Prior to the sentencing, Davila received 130 letters supporting Holmes and asking for leniency, NPR reported. Among them was a note from William “Billy” Evans, Holmes’ partner.
“If you are to know Liz, it is to know that she is honest, humble, selfless, and kind beyond what most people have ever experienced,” Evans wrote, NPR reported. “Please let her be free.”
Holmes and Evans have a 16-month-old son together, and she is pregnant with the couple’s second child. Her first pregnancy caused her trial to be rescheduled. Prior to last week’s sentencing, some reporters covering the trial speculated that because Holmes was the mother of an infant—and now pregnant again—the judge might be more lenient in sentencing. The 11-year, four-month sentence indicates that the judge was not much influenced by that factor.
Last Minute Pitch for New Trial Failed
Holmes’ legal wranglings continued until the very end.
However, Rosendorff later told the court that he stood by his testimony about problems with Theranos’ blood testing technology.
In denying the request for a new trial, Davila wrote, “The court finds Dr. Rosendorff’s statements under oath to be credible,” according to The Washington Post.
From Teen Founder to Disgraced Entrepreneur
Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 at age 19 while she was attending Stanford University as a chemical engineering major. She dropped out of Stanford as a sophomore to focus on her new company.
Theranos claimed its technology—known as Edison—could perform diagnostics tests using a finger prick and a micro-specimen vial instead of a needle and several Vacutainers of blood. The company said it could return results to patients and clinicians in four hours for about half of the cost of typical lab test fees.
However, the promise of this technology began to unravel in 2015 following an investigative article by The Wall Street Journal that revealed the company ran only a handful of tests using its technology, instead relying on traditional testing for most of its specimen work.
Fortunately, the Theranos saga has not stunted investment in healthcare technology startups. Spending was in the tens of billions in 2021, although that number has dropped this year as the COVID-19 pandemic has waned, according to TechCrunch. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that healthcare tech investors are scrutinizing scientific data from startups more thoroughly because of the Theranos fraud case.
Meanwhile, the saga of Theranos continues to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many clinical laboratory managers and pathologists. That’s because, during the peak period of adulation and spectacular news coverage about Elizabeth Holmes and her plans to totally disrupt the clinical laboratory industry, hospital and health system CEOs believed that they would be able to downsize their in-house medical laboratories and obtain lab tests from Theranos at savings of 50% or more. Consequently, during the years 2013 through the end of 2015, some hospital lab leaders saw requests for capital investment in their labs denied or delayed.
In later years, Cosgrove admitted that no one at Cleveland Clinic or its pathologists were allowed to examine the analyzers and evaluate the technology.
It was for these reasons that the demise of Theranos was welcomed by many hospital lab administrators and pathologists. The fact that two of Theranos’ senior executives have been convicted of fraud validates many of the serious concerns that medical laboratory professionals had at that time, but which most major news reporters and media ignored and failed to report to the public.