Former Vice President received an exclusive tour of a completely fake medical testing laboratory within Theranos, which he found “most impressive”
One thing clinical laboratory leaders and pathologists may still be curious about concerning the whole Theranos affair is how the company founder Elizabeth Holmes could fool so many high-ranking individuals—including then Vice President Joe Biden—into endorsing a completely fraudulent medical laboratory test process.
But it was the lengths to which Holmes and Balwani went to “trick” Joe Biden into endorsing Theranos—and subsequently receive the positive press that followed—that MSN found most intriguing.
According to MSN, in July of 2015 Holmes and Balwani procured Biden’s endorsement by giving the VP a tour of a “completely fake, staged lab.”
“What’s most impressive to me is you’re not only making these lab tests more accessible, you’re charging historically low prices, which is a small fraction of what is charged now, while maintaining the highest standards, and empowering people whether they live in the barrio or a mansion, putting them in a position to help take control of their own health,” stated then VP Joe Biden (above with Elizabeth Holmes) in a Theranos press release. Sadly, many clinical laboratory leaders who were skeptical and outspoken about Theranos’ claims were ignored by the press. (Photo copyright: ABC News.)
Wall Street Journal Reporter Exposes Theranos Fraud
According to a 2018 article by John Carreyrou which was part of his expose´ of Theranos published in The Wall Street Journal, “Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani wanted to impress Vice President Biden with a vision of a cutting-edge, automated laboratory. Instead of showing him the actual lab with its commercial analyzers, they created a fake one, according to former employees who worked in Newark. They made the microbiology team vacate a room it occupied, had it repainted, and lined its walls with rows of [Theranos] miniLabs stacked up on metal shelves.”
And the ruse worked. A 2015 Theranos press release outlined the visit at the time and stated that Biden found the facility inspiring and was impressed by the work being done by the company.
“I just had a short tour and I’m glad because you can see first-hand what innovation is all about just walking through this facility. This is the laboratory of the future,” Biden said in the press release.
In 2015, then Vice President Joe Biden toured the Theranos facility with Elizabeth Holmes, observed their supposedly innovative finger stick test system, and met with several Theranos employees. Later reports exposing the fraud stated that Holmes and Balwani were desperate to obtain Biden’s approval as it would provide positive press for Theranos, a good reputation within the industry, and lure potential investors. Theranos later tweeted a photo (above) of the visit showing Biden and Holmes walking amongst numbered blood-testing machines with a huge Theranos logo banner in the background. (Photo copyright: Connor Radnovich/The Chronicle.)
Biden’s visit occurred just a few months before Carreyrou’s Wall Street Journal report questioned the efficacy of Theranos’ blood testing technology and alleged the lab testing company tried to cover up its failures and mislead investors and patients.
Prior to that hard-hitting exposé, Holmes was heralded by the media as a star in the field of medicine. She was even prominently featured on magazine covers of influential business periodicals such as Fortune, Forbes, and Inc.
Others Who Were Bamboozled by Holmes and Balwani
Biden was not the only high-profile individual who was fooled by Holmes, Balwani and their billion-dollar con job. Other high-profile people included:
Theranos ceased operations in September of 2018 amidst the exposing of the fraud and inability to locate a buyer for the company. The shutdown rendered all investments in the company worthless.
Holmes to Receive New Hearing in Federal Court
In January of this year, Holmes was found guilty of three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for lying to investors about Theranos products. She faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 plus restitution for each count.
And so, clinical laboratory leaders and pathologists now have a better idea as to how Joe Biden was hoodwinked and endorsed a completely fake blood testing laboratory at Theranos. Can he be blamed for his ignorance of clinical laboratory test technology? Probably not. But it makes for interesting reading.
As a Theranos insider and whistleblower, Tyler Schultz was able to provide information about the ongoing failures in medical laboratory testing at the once-high-flying Theranos to regulators and at least one journalist
What’s it like to be a whistleblower in a high-profile clinical laboratory? Few clinical laboratory workers will ever know. But former Theranos employee Tyler Shultz does know, after helping to expose the Silicon Valley blood-testing startup’s deceptions.
The 31-year-old Shultz reportedly celebrated the news of former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes’ conviction on four charges of defrauding investors with champagne, joy, and a healthy dose of vindication, according to NPR.
“This story has been unfolding for pretty much my entire adult life,” Tyler Shultz (above), whistleblower in the Elizabeth Holmes fraud trial, told NPR from his parents’ home in Silicon Valley. “All of a sudden, it was just a weight was lifted. It’s over. I can’t believe it’s over,” he added. A former employee of now defunct clinical laboratory company Theranos, Shultz is CEO at Flux Biosciences, a company he co-founded. (Photo copyright: Deanne Fitzmaurice/NPR.)
Shultz Interns Briefly at Theranos
In 2011, Shultz was a biology major at Stanford University—where Elizabeth Holmes herself briefly attended—when his grandfather, former US Secretary of State George Shultz, a Theranos board member, introduced him to Holmes.
According to NPR, the younger Shultz was so impressed by the charismatic Holmes that he asked her if he could intern with Theranos after his junior year. Following his internship, he accepted a full-time position as a research engineer with Theranos, a stint that lasted only eight months. Shultz quit Theranos the day after he emailed Holmes in 2014 to alert her to failed quality-control checks and other troubling practices within the company’s clinical laboratory.
According a 2016 profile of Shultz in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), his email to Holmes resulted in a “blistering” reply from then-Theranos President and COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who “belittled Shultz’s grasp of basic mathematics and his knowledge of laboratory science.”
Yet, Shultz told NPR, “It was clear that there was an open secret within Theranos that this technology simply didn’t exist.”
After leaving Theranos, Shultz became a key source for the WSJ’s 2015 exposé of Theranos. Using an alias, he also contacted state regulators in New York about the Theranos Edison blood-testing device’s shortcomings. In response, Theranos responded with threats of lawsuits and intimidation, the WSJ reported.
In an interview with CBS News, Shultz said, “I am happy that she was found guilty of these crimes and I feel like I got my vindication from that, and I feel good about that.”
Whistleblowers Were Critical to WSJ’s Investigation
Former WSJ reporter John Carreyrou, who authored the newspaper’s investigative series into Theranos, credits the Theranos whistleblowers for blowing the cover on the clinical lab company’s deceptions.
“I would not have been able to break this story without Rosendorff, Tyler, and Erika,” Carreyrou told NPR, referring to Shultz and two additional Theranos whistleblowers: one-time Theranos Laboratory Director Adam Rosendorff and laboratory associate Erika Cheung. “Tyler and Erika were corroborating sources, and that was absolutely critical.”
In the interview with CBS News, Tyler described the damage his role as a Theranos whistleblower caused to his relationship with his grandfather, former Secretary of State and Theranos board member George Shultz. Tyler said the elder Shultz did not believe his claims about Theranos’ regulatory deficiencies and the Edison device’s shortcomings until he neared the end of his life.
“That was extremely tough. This whole saga has taken a financial, emotional, and social toll on my relationships. The toll it took on my grandfather’s relationship was probably the worst. It is tough to explain. I had a few very honest conversations with him,” Shultz told CBS News.
While the elder Shultz never apologized to his grandson, Tyler said his grandfather ultimately acknowledged he was right.
“In one of my last conversations with him he told me a story about how he got Elizabeth invited during fleet week in San Francisco to go give a speech to United States Navy sailors. He said with tears in her eyes, she told the room about how she was so honored and humbled that her life’s work would be saving the lives of United States servicemen and women,” Shultz recalled in the CBS News interview.
“He said he could not believe that anybody could get in front of these men and women who are willing to put their lives in front of our country and lie directly to their face as convincingly as she lied,” he added.
George Shultz died in February 2021.
Jury’s Ruling on Defrauding Patients
In an interview with CNBC, Shultz said his one disappointment with the verdict was that Holmes was not found guilty of defrauding patients. Calling the patients “the real victims,” Shultz said, “I did what I did. I stuck my neck out to protect those patients, not to protect Betsy DeVos’ $100 million investment.” (The jury voted Holmes guilty on three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud against Theranos’ investors, but not guilty on conspiracy to defraud and commit wire fraud against Theranos patients.)
Tyler Shultz was listed as a potential witness in the Holmes trial but was not called to take the stand. He—along with many clinical laboratory directors and pathologists who have closely followed the Holmes trial—will now await news of Holmes’ sentencing. Holmes could face up to 20 years in prison for each guilty verdict, but she’s likely to receive a lighter sentence.
The trail of Ramesh Balwani is expected to begin sometime in March. That trial can be expected to produce additional revelations about the problems of Theranos and how and why management is alleged to have knowingly reported inaccurate clinical laboratory test results to thousands of patients.
WSJ reporter affirms that the pathologist was his “first and most important source” in confirming the problems at the now-defunct medical lab testing company
During the federal fraud trial of Theranos Founder and former-CEO Elizabeth Holmes, no one has spent more days on the witness stand than ex-Theranos Laboratory Director Adam Rosendorff, MD, the pathologist who testified for the prosecution that he repeatedly warned Holmes about problems with Theranos’ flawed Edison blood-testing device.
Dark Daily’s previous ebrief on the ongoing Holmes’ fraud trial reported that Rosendorff, who is board certified in clinical pathology, had testified, “I told her that the potassium was unreliable, the sodium was unreliable, the glucose was unreliable, [and] explained why. She was very nervous. She was not her usual composed self. She was trembling a bit, her knee was tapping, her voice was breaking up. She was clearly upset.”
It should come as no surprise that in response Holmes’ lawyers attempted to paint Rosendorff as an “incompetent” lab director with a resume littered with failures at other biotech companies. According to court documents, Holmes faces 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for allegedly misleading investors, clinical laboratories, patients, and healthcare providers about Theranos’ proprietary blood-testing technology.
Carreyrou Declares Ex-Theranos Lab Director Adam Rosendorff a Hero
“So, I’ve been fielding queries from reporters asking me to confirm that former Theranos lab director Adam Rosendorff, who is currently testifying at Elizabeth Holmes’ trial, was my source. I can now confirm it. Alan Beam = Adam Rosendorff,” Carreyrou tweeted.
“I’ll add this: Adam was my first and most important source. Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to break the Theranos story. Hats off to his courage and integrity. He’s one of the real heroes of this story,” Carreyrou added in a subsequent Tweet.
Inside the San Jose, Calif., courtroom, pathologist Rosendorff took centerstage, completing six days on the witness stand as Holmes’ defense attorney Lance Wade, JD, sought to undermine Rosendorff’s earlier testimony for the prosecution and question his competence as a laboratory leader.
Rosendorff Testifies About Another CMS Investigation at Lab Where He is Medical Director
Rosendorff acknowledged during cross examination that he risked losing his license as a lab director after the CMS inspectors uncovered testing deficiencies at PerkinElmer’s Valencia (California) Branch Laboratory as well, where Rosendorff currently serves as Laboratory and Medical Director.
According to the WSJ, Rosendorff testified that most of the CMS inspection involved reviewing documents. During cross examination, it was revealed that the same CMS inspectors who investigated Theranos also conducted the PerkinElmer lab investigation.
Defense attorneys also had hoped to question Rosendorff about his previous work at uBiome Inc., a startup that was the target of a 2019 federal probe into its lab test billing practices, CNBC reported.
The Mercury News reported that during an October 5 hearing to determine the extent to which Holmes’ legal team could cross examine Rosendorff about his past employment, Wade told US District Judge Edward Davila that Rosendorff had a failed record as a lab leader. The Holmes defense lawyer alleged a link between “unreliable test results” at the biotechnology company Rosendorff went to after leaving Theranos and claimed that Rosendorff’s work at PerkinElmer resulted in the CMS notice of “serious deficiencies” at the lab.
“[Rosendorff] pointed the finger at many other people, including my client,” Wade told Davila. “He appears to almost never have competently done his job. He was incompetent at Theranos, too, and that is the reason many of the failures happened. He’s the person who’s ultimately responsible in the laboratory,” he added.
Nevertheless, Judge Davila prohibited questions regarding Rosendorff’s employment at uBiome and limited the scope of questions about his current role at PerkinElmer.
Holmes’ Attorneys Challenge Rosendorff’s Testimony During Cross Examination
After leaving Theranos, Rosendorff’s LinkedIn profile shows he served as Laboratory Director at San Francisco-based Invitae from December 2014 to September 2017 before moving to Millennium Health in San Diego as Medical Director from December 2017 to January 2021. He joined PerkinElmer in January.
The WSJ reported that Rosendorff’s ties to uBiome showed up in Theranos court records.
The WSJ also noted that during the multiday cross examination of Rosendorff, the Holmes defense team scored points by “pointing to contradictions in his testimony and challenging his assertions that he wanted to expose Theranos’ testing practices to the government.”
In making his point, Wade read aloud from a deposition Rosendorff gave during a separate case in which he claimed that Theranos did not have a greater number of anomalous test results than other labs where he had previously worked.
“And that’s 180 degrees from what you answered in your direct testimony,” Wade said to Rosendorff during cross examination.
“Yes, it seems to be different,” Rosendorff replied, but also noted that Theranos should have fewer errors than a lab with a much higher volume of tests.
Wade also introduced a November 2014 email in which Rosendorff told a colleague he knew of only one time when Theranos provided to a patient an obviously incorrect test result. Rosendorff had previously testified that he alerted Holmes on numerous occasions about his concerns with ongoing testing errors.
Wade also questioned whether Rosendorff had a financial motive for considering a whistleblower lawsuit against Theranos, pointing out that Rosendorff would be entitled to a portion of any damages recovered. Rosendorff responded that he did not have a profit motive in mind when he forwarded more than 150 Theranos emails to his personal account.
Former WSJ Reporter Carreyrou May Be Called to Testify
Clinical laboratory managers and pathologists will be fascinated with another twist that surfaced as this trial continued. Former WSJ reporter Carreyrou became personally intertwined with the Holmes’ trial after it came to light that the investigative reporter—whose podcast “Bad Blood: The Final Chapter” spotlights the ongoing fraud trial—is on Holmes’ potential witness list.
The motion, The Mercury News reported, states that “Placing Carreyrou on the witness list was done in bad faith and was designed to harass him,” and calls his placement on the list “a cynical ruse” that violates Carreyrou’s First Amendment rights.
CNN reported that Carreyrou’s attorneys are asking that the exclusion order (which prevents some witnesses from being inside the courtroom during other witness testimonies) or the gag order (which allows witnesses to discuss their testimonies only with their attorneys) not be applied to Carreyrou.
For clinical laboratory scientists awaiting the next installment in the now six-week-old trial, former Safeway CEO Steven Burd (now founder and CEO of Burd Health) will continue his testimony on the failed partnership between the grocery store chain and Theranos.
As part of that agreement, Safeway spent $350 million to remodel 800 of its grocery stores to have a patient service center (PCS) and laboratory space where the unproven Edison device would be used to perform the clinical laboratory tests.
The testimony in this next phase of trial about the Safeway agreement with Theranos, and Holmes’ role in convincing the Safeway executive team to invest a third of a billion dollars to build 800 PSCs and lab spaces in 800 stores, should be as interesting as the witness testimony given earlier in this trial.
Six-episode show is based on popular ABC Radio podcast “The Dropout,” which focused on the three-year investigation that brought down clinical laboratory test developer Theranos
While former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes awaits the start of her August 31 criminal fraud trial in a federal court in Northern California, one streaming video service is lining up a star-studded cast to tell the story of the Silicon Valley executive’s fall from grace and the demise of her clinical laboratory blood-testing company.
This six-part series is being produced by Hulu, an on-demand video streaming service offering live and on-demand content. Back in 2019, it announced that it would produce the “The Dropout,” a limited series chronicling Holmes’ rise and fall from Founder and CEO of $9 billion tech company Theranos to criminal defendant.
Hulu says the series will launch this fall, so pathologists and medical laboratory managers have time to set their recorders to capture what may be a compelling story of hubris that took investors and the news media on a wild ride. The Theranos publicity machine was so effective that many hospital CEOs went to their clinical laboratory administrators and told them to delay equipment purchases because Theranos would be able to do the same medical laboratory tests at just pennies on the existing lab-cost dollar.
Holmes’ carefully-crafted public image as Theranos’ CEO drew comparisons to the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Business Insider noted. This has made her a popular topic not only among clinical laboratory scientists but also Hollywood moviemakers.
“The Dropout” took its inspiration from the ABC Audio podcast of the same name, hosted by ABC Chief Business, Technology and Economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis. The ABC Audio podcast’s description provides a glimpse into the direction the miniseries will take.
“Money. Romance. Tragedy. Deception. The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos is an unbelievable tale of ambition and fame gone terribly wrong. How did the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire lose it all in the blink of an eye? How did the woman once heralded as ‘the next Steve Jobs’ find herself facing criminal charges—to which she pleaded not guilty—and up to 20 years in jail? How did her technology, meant to revolutionize healthcare, potentially put millions of patients at risk? And how did so many smart people get it so wrong along the way?” the ABC Audio website states.
The Hulu series originally was to star “Saturday Night Live” cast member Kate McKinnon as Holmes but was recast with Amanda Seyfried in the starring role. According to Variety, the series will include a notable lineup of guest stars including:
Naveen Andrews will play former Theranos President and COO Ramesh Balwani, whose own criminal fraud trial is expected to begin early next year.
A release date for the limited series has not yet been announced, Town and Country reported.
The ‘Real World’ Wall Street Journal Investigation of Theranos and Holmes
Dark Daily has reported extensively on the Holmes/Theranos saga, including the recent development that Holmes’ repeatedly-delayed trial would be pushed back from mid-July to August 31 because Holmes is due to give birth in July.
Theranos’ alleged deceptions first were brought to light in a series of 2015 investigative reports in The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Then-WSJ investigative reporter John Carreyrou alleged Theranos had not disclosed publicly that the vast majority of its tests were not being done with proprietary technology, but instead with traditional machines purchased from Siemens AG and other companies.
And for those looking for even more drama centered around the Theranos saga, a feature film starring Jennifer Lawrence as Elizabeth Holmes, titled, “Bad Blood,” remains “in development” according to People magazine. Though the project was announced in 2016, filming has yet to begin.
Meanwhile, clinical laboratory scientists will soon get to watch the next “real world” chapter in the Holmes’ saga play out in federal court later this summer. They will also have multiple opportunities in the coming years to be “entertained” by the Theranos scandal on big and small screens.
Former CEO Elizabeth Holmes now awaits March 9 court date on federal fraud charges that include reporting false medical laboratory test results on some patients
Clinical laboratory leaders have watched with keen interest the federal criminal proceedings against disgraced Theranos founder and former CEO Elizabeth Holmes, whose blood-testing company lost nearly $1 billion of investors’ money before dissolving in 2018.
“If you rewind to October 2015, when I finished, when I published my first investigative story on Theranos, the company still had $400 million in the bank and it could have called it quits then,” Carreyrou said in the interview. “And Elizabeth Holmes could have apologized to investors, to patients, to everyone she had misled and returned that money to shareholders on a pro-rata basis.”
Theranos Scandal Breaks Wide Open
Carreyrou’s nearly year-long Wall Street Journal investigation into Theranos helped bring down the venture capital darling that had achieved a $9 billion private valuation before crumbling under the weight of fraud allegations. Dark Daily and our sister publication The Dark Report (TDR) covered in detail the allegations against and investigation into the embattled blood test company in dozens of e-briefings and TDR articles starting in 2015.
In fact, The Dark Report was first to publish the news that Theranos had ceased using its finger-stick collection method in Phoenix as early as April 2015. (See TDR, “Theranos: Many Questions, But Very Few Answers,” April 20, 2015.) At that time, Theranos declined to respond to The Dark Report’s requests for comments.
Theranos had built its superstar reputation on the backs of a revolutionary finger-prick blood testing system, which Holmes promised could diagnosis diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer with just a few drops of blood. But an in-depth investigation into hoopla surrounding the company’s breakthrough technology by Carreyrou and other reporters at the Wall Street Journal revealed it was based on false test results and phony claims to investors and companies, such as Walgreens, which had planned to feature the technology in their retail clinics.
In 2016, Theranos received sanctions from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which included revocation of the company’s CLIA certificate and sanctions against Holmes and other company officials that prohibited them from owning or operating a medical laboratory for two years. Soon afterward, Theranos laid off 340 workers, closed its laboratory operations, and shuttered its wellness centers to “focus on an initiative to create miniature medical testing machines,” the New York Times reported.
When Theranos was finally dissolved in September 2018, Carreyrou reported that the company had an estimated $5 million in cash to distribute to unsecured creditors. All told, Carreyrou estimates Theranos’ investors, which included such big names as News Corp Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch, Bechtel Group Chairman Riley Bechtel, and US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, lost nearly $1 billion.
Today, Holmes is preparing to stand trial on a dozen federal wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud charges at the US District Court in San Jose, Calif., where jury selection is slated to start on March 9, 2021, amid COVID-19 pandemic safety precautions.
According to the Mercury News, Holmes faces maximum penalties of 20 years in prison and a $2.75 million fine, plus possible restitution. Carreyrou does not expect Holmes to seek a plea deal.
“I think that the chances of that are pretty unlikely. From what I hear, she’s telling her friends and her entourage that she’s actually looking forward to her day in court and she thinks that the real story—her version of the story—will come out at trial,” he told CNBC. “And so, she’s actually putting on a cheerful face with people she knows, and people have seen her recently and are saying that she’s looking forward to see this go to a jury.”
While the final chapter of this story will be written by a federal court jury, clinical laboratory leaders likely will want Holmes to face maximum penalties if found guilty of all charges. The deceptive scientific and business practices Theranos allegedly engaged in caused many headaches for the clinical lab directors of hospitals and health networks as their CEOs asked why the “cheap and fast” Theranos testing system could not be used instead of traditional, more expensive testing methods.
Theranos also financially damaged investors who might otherwise have gained capital and continued to invest in more credible startups of diagnostic companies and clinical laboratories.