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Trial of Theranos Former President Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani, Ex-boyfriend of Elizabeth Holmes, Begins

Trial of Theranos Former President Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani, Ex-boyfriend of Elizabeth Holmes, Begins

  • While the two face similar charges, Balwani’s trial seems unlikely to attract the intense attention and media scrutiny of Holmes’ trial.

The federal trial of Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani began on March 22 after several Covid related and logistical delays. The former president of Theranos Inc., a private health care and life sciences company in Palo Alto, California, and ex-boyfriend of founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes is facing fraud charges in a federal court in San Jose, California. Balwani helped build the blood-testing startup with Holmes, who was found guilty in January on four charges of defrauding investors of criminal fraud for her role in building Theranos into a $9 billion company that collapsed in scandal. Balwani has pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Holmes, 38, and Balwani, 56, were originally charged in June 2018 on two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine counts of wire fraud. According to the indictment unsealed on June 15, 2018, the pair had engaged in a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud investors and a separate scheme to defraud doctors and patients, and both schemes entailed promotion. If convicted, each of them could face 20 years in prison and fines of $250,000, plus restitution, for each count of wire fraud and for each conspiracy count.

Holmes had founded Theranos in 2003 as a 19-year-old college dropout and was hailed and celebrated as a Silicon Valley whiz-kid. The Palo Alto, California-based Theranos 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 health care costs.

Holmes 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.

While Holmes and Balwani face similar charges, there are reportedly vast differences in both trials. The New York Times reported that “without an appearance by Holmes, Balwani’s trial seems unlikely to attract the intense attention of her trial, which lasted from last September to her January conviction.” That was evident on the first day of Balwani’s trial itself, The Times reported, “with only a few people lined up to get into the courthouse about an hour before it opened.” A “stark contrast to Holmes’ trial, which attracted long lines of people in the early morning hoping to get into the courtroom.”

But even without being in the courtroom, “Holmes would be a prominent figure in the trial,” The Guardian speculated, based on the opening statements by the defense and the prosecutors. “Balwani’s lawyer, Stephen Cazares, also made multiple references to Holmes during his 90-minute presentation, but mostly in ways meant to cast Balwani as an already successful entrepreneur who had left the company in better shape than when he joined it while providing a desperately needed infusion of cash,” The Guardian report said. Balwani’s trial is expected to run for the next three months.

During her testimony, Holmes accused Balwani of emotionally and sexually abusing her, which apparently compromised her judgment during the time of the alleged crimes. Holmes made the accusations during her much-anticipated testimony on Nov. 29, in an attempt to refute accusations that she lied about a flawed blood-testing technology, which she had touted as a breakthrough. She blamed Balwani for allegedly exploiting, using and misleading her.

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To blame her ex-boyfriend for her mental state during the times she committed fraud, Holmes testified that her rape at Stanford played a role in her being subservient to Balwani. She told the court that after the incident, she stopped attending classes and immersed herself into building her company instead. “I was questioning what — how I was going to be able to process that experience and what I wanted to do with my life,” she told the court, according to news reports. “I decided that I was going to build a life by building this company.” Holmes mentioned that later when she told Balwani the trauma of her rape at Stanford, he told her she was safe, now that had met him.

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.”

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