Former Theranos COO and ex-boyfriend of disgraced founder Elizabeth Holmes, Sunny Balwani has been found guilty on all 12 criminal charges after a three-month trial.
At her own high-profile trial this winter, Holmes was found guilty of defrauding investors and conspiring to defraud investors on four of 11 counts, though she was not found guilty of defrauding patients. This jury, however, found Sunny Balwani guilty of defrauding both investors and patients, as well as conspiring to defraud them.
As anyone who has watched the fictionalized Hulu series “The Dropout” knows, Theranos aspired to conduct dozens of tests on a single drop of blood, which could have revolutionized the healthcare industry. But despite reaching a $10 billion valuation and spending over a decade in development, Theranos’ technology never actually worked, and in the most egregious cases, patients were presented with dangerously false medical results. In one case, a mother with a history of miscarriages was wrongly informed that she would have another unsuccessful pregnancy. Another patient, Erin Tompkins, used Theranos for its low costs, got flagged as HIV-positive, and then lived in limbo for three months until she could afford a second blood test. She didn’t actually have HIV.
Now, Balwani will be held accountable for what happened to Tompkins, as well as a patient Mehrl Ellsworth, who received a false cancer diagnosis.
Holmes and Balwani were supposed to be tried for fraud together, but the former CEO filed for a separate trial, stating that Balwani — who is 20 years her senior — had emotionally and sexually abused her. Though the court is not ruling on those allegations, the judge granted the request.
Throughout the trial, Balwani’s lawyers attempted to make the case that even though he was an investor and executive at Theranos, he was not involved in key decision-making. But that’s a difficult argument to make to a jury that saw a text from Balwani to Holmes that read, “I am responsible for everything at Theranos.”
In her own trial, Holmes’ defense tried to pin the company’s colossal failure on Balwani. She took the stand herself — a rarity in one’s own criminal fraud trial — to detail their relationship. Holmes described Balwani as having so much control over both her and her company that he micromanaged her daily schedule, including how she dressed and what she ate.
Balwani’s trial featured the same evidence that indicted Holmes. The prosecution focussed on a key piece of evidence relating to Theranos’ relationship with Walgreens. The biotech startup’s faulty technology made its way into 41 Walgreens stores, but unbeknownst to the pharmacy giant, most of the tests were conducted on third-party equipment. Theranos’ own machines couldn’t produce accurate test results, so a lot of patients had blood drawn not with a finger prick but intravenously. So, Walgreens basically spent hundreds of millions of dollars redesigning stores for Theranos’ “wellness centers,” only for the startup to use the same old tech.
Despite Balwani’s lawyers’ claims to the contrary, a Walgreens executive testified that he worked closely with Balwani on the deal. The prosecution also displayed evidence of a text from Balwani to Holmes stating that he deliberately didn’t tell Walgreens that they were using different machines.
Holmes’ jury took seven days to deliberate, but Balwani’s jury came to a decision on the fifth day of deliberation. Both former Theranos executives await sentencing.
This story is developing…