Breaking–The Theranos denouement: Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11.25 years with an investor loss of ~$121 million

Elizabeth Holmes received her sentence today by Judge Edward Davila of the US District Court of Northern California, in an over four-hour court proceeding.

The sentencing was based on Federal guidelines for four counts of a Class C (non-violent) felony, as well as the recommendations of probation officers. Your Editor watched this in real time from the NBC Bay Area feed and reporter Scott Budman’s Twitter feed from the courtroom (cameras are excluded). This started at 10am PT with last arguments made by prosecution and defense and victim statements. The actual reading of the sentence in his summation by Judge Davila took a little more than 20 minutes, delivered in a silent courtroom, concluding after 2pm PT.

The decision:

  • Prison sentence: 11.25 years (11 years, three months), to be followed by three years of supervised release. Holmes will be required to self-surrender on 27 April 2023. This is likely after her delivery date. This was less than the 15 years requested by the prosecution (in turn less than the 20 years maximum), more than the nine years recommended to the judge by the probation officers (what is called a downward deviation), but entirely based on the sentencing manual. Judge Davila obviously did not believe that he could justify that downward deviation.
  • The investor loss. Judge Davila estimated the total loss by 10 investors at $384 million, not $804 million. A ‘reasonable total loss’ is only $121 million. This winnowing down is a big win for Holmes. While she will never be able to pay it, below $500 million it takes down her possible sentencing, according to NBC’s legal commentator, former prosecutor Dean Johnson. The total and final amount will be settled at a later date at a restitution hearing.

Scott Budman’s tweets included the jousting between both prosecution and defense on multiple points.

There were victim impact statements directed to Holmes, which include the father of whistleblower Tyler Shultz, Alex Shultz, whose grandfather was investor, board member, and enabler George Shultz. “There’s a lot of talk about Sunny and Elizabeth. From my family’s perspective, Elizabeth is their Sunny Balwani. She took advantage of my family.” Theranos lawyers burst into their home (average for the bare-knucks tactics of one David Boies) with no chance for Tyler to defend himself. It also pitted the senior generation (now departed) versus son and grandson, ripping apart the family.

A cancer patient testified; the judge gently said he read her letter.

Holmes presented her own statement as the last word. “I am devastated by my failings. I have felt deep pain for what people went through, because I failed them. To investors, patients, I am sorry.”

Judge Davila’s formal sentencing of Holmes was well under 30 minutes. A judge’s summation must primarily justify the sentencing. It is where he speaks at length. It must detail his logic, discretion, reasoning, and thought process based on the information presented at trial and by precedent. The quotes are from Scott Budman’s play-by-play tweets:

“This case is troubling on so many levels. What went wrong? This is sad because Ms. Holmes is brilliant.”
“Failure is normal. But failure by fraud is not OK.”
“We know by the texts with Mr. Balwani that there was conspiracy.”
“What is the pathology of fraud? Is it the inability to accept responsibility? Perhaps that [is] the cautionary tale to come from this case.”

This Editor will reflect on this, with more information, next week. Will there be a genuine Silicon Valley impact in the middle of a downturn or has this all been factored in? There is the implosion of bitcoin/crypto FTX in the headlines–2022’s equivalent of the early 1930s’ fall of Swedish Match/Ivar Krueger and Ivan Boesky’s stock fraud of the Big ’80s.

Certainly there will be appeals by the defense and by the Feds. A defense appeal, for instance, may lengthen the time before she will serve her sentence.

Sunny Balwani’s attorneys will not be having a Palm Springs Weekend, either, now knowing the thought process of Judge Davila. 

With deep appreciation to the NBC Bay Area team coverage, the analysis by Dean Johnson, and warmly to Scott Budman.

Categories: Latest News and Opinion.

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