- The plea comes a few days before her Nov. 18 sentencing for defrauding investors in her failed blood-testing company.
Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder and CEO of Thearnos, has blamed her ex-boyfriend and former president, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, in a clemency plea submitted a few days before her sentencing this week. This is not the first time the 38-year-old has accused the 57-year-old Indian American. During her testimony last November, she told the court that Balwani emotionally and sexually abused her, and held him responsible for her mental state during the times she committed fraud.
She was 18 when she met Balwani, then 38, during a trip to China. She told the court that what began as a professional relationship eventually turned amorous. The two became romantically involved in 2005 before Balwani became the chief operating officer at Theranos, a position he held from 2009 to 2016. They were together for 12 years.
Holmes was found guilty this January of wire fraud related to investors and could face more than 20 years in prison. A few months later, Balwani, 57, was found guilty of 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. mental state during the times she committed fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 7, a few weeks after Holmes’ Nov. 18 testimony, ahead of which the request for leniency was filed.
She had founded Theranos in 2003 as a 19-year-old college dropout and was hailed and celebrated as a Silicon Valley whiz-kid. The company was aiming to revolutionize medical laboratory testing through allegedly innovative methods for drawing blood, testing blood, and interpreting the resulting patient data to improve outcomes and lower healthcare costs.
In the clemency plea, Holmes also talked about her rape at Stanford, which she had told the court during her testimony. She had said that the incident played a role in her being subservient to Balwani. She also mentioned that later, when she told Balwani about the trauma of her rape at Stanford, he told her she was safe now.
However, the picture she painted of her ex-boyfriend was far from being a safety anchor for her. She told the court that he berated her and controlled her. When he was upset with her, he forced her to have sex with him, to show her that he loved her. “He told me that I didn’t know what I was doing in business, that my convictions were wrong, that he was astonished at my mediocrity,” she said, adding that he told her that she needed “to kill the person” if she was to become successful. “He felt like I came across as a little girl and thought I needed to be more serious and more pointed.”
At other times, Holmes said, Balwani would liken her to a “monkey flying a spaceship” and tried to cut her off from her family in an alleged effort to ensure that she devoted herself full-time to Theranos. She also said he controlled her diet in an attempt to keep her “pure.” She told the court that Balwani “wasn’t who I thought he was,” and that he “impacted everything about who I was and I don’t fully understand that.”
In an 82-page filing, Holmes’ lawyers requested U.S.District Judge Edward Davila to consider a sentence of no more than 18 months in home confinement, according to the Associated Press. They argue that sending Holmes to prison is unnecessary, partly because “she has already been stigmatized by intense media coverage that has turned her into a caricature to be mocked and vilified.”
However, if Davila does decide to send their client to prison, they say the sentence shouldn’t be more than 18 months. “We acknowledge that this may seem a tall order given the public perception of this case — especially when Ms. Holmes is viewed as the caricature, not the person,” the filing said, per AP.
Responding to the filing by Holmes’s lawyers requesting leniency, the federal prosecutors have asked Davila to sentence Holmes to 15 years in prison, as reported by The Washington Post. The report said the prosecutors argued that she “deserves a lengthy prison term because her massive scheme duped investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars by falsely convincing them her company had developed a revolutionary blood testing device.” They called the case “one of the most substantial white collar offenses Silicon Valley or any other District has seen,” the Post noted. They “vehemently rejected defense attorneys’ characterization that Holmes had been unfairly victimized, in part by media coverage,” The Post noted.
It is believed that Davila “will use whatever sentence he imposes to send a message to Silicon Valley and beyond,” a Bloomberg report said. Quoting experts, the report said the aim of the sentencing is “not only to penalize Holmes for the fraud she was convicted of but deter it in the technology sector, where the lines between hype and fraud are often blurred.”