TechnologyTheranos exec tries to reinvent herself during her fraud trial

Theranos exec tries to reinvent herself during her fraud trial


Elizabeth Holmes leaves the San José courtroom last July.Stephen Lam (Reuters)

It’s the end for one of the most gripping trials Silicon Valley has seen in recent years. After more than three months of process, this Thursday began the conclusions of the defense of Elizabeth Holmes, the executive of Theranos, a biotechnology company that promised to revolutionize the health industry with a machine that could do hundreds of clinical analyzes with a single drop of blood. Behind one of the most notorious recent technology success stories was actually a house of cards. Holmes, 37, faces eleven counts of fraud in a multi-million dollar scheme to deceive patients and investors. If found guilty, she can be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The jury began to deliberate on Friday night and must return to the San José court on Monday morning. Holmes’s attorneys focused their strategy on reinventing the character, who has starred in a documentary, a podcast and soon a Hulu drama series, who was always portrayed by the press as a brilliant and ambitious businesswoman willing to go all the way. consequences (and who pleads not guilty to the charges against him). At the center of this plan was a risky initiative: placing Holmes herself on the stand to testify.

Holmes’s statements spanned seven days. The most intense was that of Monday, November 29, in which the businesswoman, who left Stanford University at age 19 to found Theranos, claimed before the jury that she had been the victim of a rape at the university. “I decided that I was going to build a life building this company,” Holmes argued in court. Shortly after that, he began a love affair, which lasted a decade, with Ramesh Balwani, who was president of the company and one of the first to support it with a loan in 2009. Holmes says he was subjected to psychological and sexual abuse while he was there. paired with Balwani, who will also be tried for fraud in early 2022.

“He told me that he did not know what I was doing in the business, that all my beliefs were wrong, that he was surprised by my mediocrity and that if I continued my attempts we would fail,” said Holmes on a day in which he burst into tears, offering to the public an unknown face of his most media profile: a cold and dispassionate woman. Holmes was 18 and Balwani 38 at the beginning of the relationship, which was hidden from employees and investors.

“Sometimes he would go upstairs and do things to me that I didn’t want to do. It hurt me, ”Holmes swore before the court. After one of these encounters, the businesswoman wrote: “It hurts so much. Too much. I can’t focus on anything except why? ” This message was followed by a text to Balwani: “My job is to love you when you are stressed.” The defendant claims that the businessman, with experience in other technology, strictly controlled his life, got up at 4 in the morning, worked seven days a week in the office, ate a salad and tofu for lunch and quinoa and broccoli for lunch. dinner. He also had to reduce the time he had to spend with his family. Balwani has rejected all these accusations.

A sketch illustrates a moment in the testimony of Elizabeth Holmes, tried for fraud.
A sketch illustrates a moment in the testimony of Elizabeth Holmes, tried for fraud.VICKI BEHRINGER (Reuters)

Holmes’s testimony created a media circus that led hundreds of people on pilgrimage from San Francisco and other cities to go to the San José courts. Dozens of people lined up in long lines to listen to an Icarus of biotechnology, a woman who dropped out of school and founded a company that was valued at $ 9 billion and whose shareholders were Bill Clinton, Carlos Slim and Rupert. Murdoch, among several others. Another high-caliber testimony in the process was provided by Jim Mattis, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Defense, who injected $ 85,000. Several military personnel, such as Mattis himself, invested in Theranos because the company claimed to be in the process of winning several contracts to analyze the blood of soldiers on the battlefield, something that turned out to be a lie.

The Prosecutor’s Office tried to dismantle the version of the accused during the trial. They challenged his testimony with hundreds of messages between the two, showing affection and love from both parties, even when Balwani left the company in 2016, after he The Wall Street Journal dedicate a series of stories in which it was concluded that the Theranos machines did not work as the executives said.

This Friday, the prosecutor John Bostic spoke of these allegations during his closing arguments in front of the jury. “They do not need to reach a conclusion about what happened between Mrs. Holmes and Mr. Balwani to give a verdict in this case,” said the lawyer, who was trying to clear any trace of mist that could soften the hearts of those who must conclude if the businesswoman, who is married and had a child this year, is guilty or innocent. Bostic has pointed out that the defense did not prove that there is evidence linking the suffering in his private life with the fraud charges.

The defense, which avoided repeating the issue of abuse in its conclusions, focused this Friday on profiling Holmes as a young entrepreneur who dreamed of revolutionizing the world with a machine that since 2013 has promised a diagnosis for 200 ailments with a single drop of blood. . His lawyers claim that he failed in his attempt without bad faith in the process. “You know how at the first trouble, criminals cash in, criminals cover their tracks and rats jump out of the boat. Mrs. Holmes stayed the whole time. She believed in this technology ”, said this morning Kevin Downey, one of the lawyers.

The prosecution has also fought against this image. Prosecutors have been forced to recall that the businesswoman was 30 at the height of Theranos in 2014. At least one of the 12 jurors fear a conviction will ruin Holmes’ life for his youth. “I was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong,” Bostic said. In the next few days it will be known which version of Elizabeth Holmes weighed on the minds of those in charge of dispensing justice.

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