The Theranos Trials, ch. 3: Sunny and Elizabeth were in it together, all the way

“Partners in everything, including their crimes” was part of the prosecution’s opening statement in today’s start of Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani’s trial. Delayed by a week by a Covid-19 exposure, the former chief operating officer of Theranos is on trial for the same charges as Elizabeth Holmes–10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Their trials were severed when her defense charged him with emotional abuse. The trial is taking place in the same US District Court in San Jose, with Judge Edward Davila and with the same prosecution team, for the next 12 weeks.

Prosecutor Robert Leach brought Holmes into the picture repeatedly with their personal and professional partnership, adding that while Balwani “skewed the medical decisions patients were making and put them at risk”, he laid the financial and technical fakery at both their feet. “The defendant and Holmes knew the rosy falsehoods that they were telling investors were contrary to the reality within Theranos.”  Leach also contended that Balwani had absolutely no background in healthcare technology and was unqualified to lead the company.

His defense, which is led by Stephen Cazares of Orrick–a former Federal prosecutor and enforcement attorney at the SEC–contends that Balwani was not a founder, nor a controlling executive, or had final decision-making authority–Holmes was. If anything, Balwani was blinded by his belief in the technology, to the extent of putting up his own $10 million to guarantee a loan for Theranos before investing another $5 million for a stake in the company. And others, such as Safeway and Walgreens, had reviewed and invested in Theranos. Like Holmes, he never cashed in his stake.

A new piece of the defense is quoted from the very thorough article in tech website Protocol: “…the government was to blame for not doing its due diligence. Theranos handed over a hard drive to the Department of Justice with encrypted test data for more than 9 million Theranos patients back in 2018. The DOJ didn’t analyze that database, and therefore, Cazares argued, the government cannot definitively say how well or not well Theranos’ technology worked.” It’s an interesting limb but given the Holmes convictions, feels to this Editor like one that’s easily sawed off.

The first witness called was Erika Cheung, the Theranos lab associate who became a whistleblower. Court ended before she got to any statements, but in the Holmes trial she stated the Edison lab results were about as accurate as a coin toss, which was devastating. More to come through Thursday. The Guardian, NBC Bay Area, and Mercury News (annoyingly paywalled).

The Theranos Trials, ch. 2: bail tightened for Holmes, previewing the Balwani trial, and ‘The Dropout’

Ms. Holmes will have to pony up cash or property for her bail. Back in January, Judge Edward Davila of the US District Court ruled that Elizabeth Holmes would be free on a $500,000 bond secured by personal property. As is typical in federal cases of this type, this was based on her signature. The prosecution, perhaps being extra cautious on the possibility of flight during the time leading up to Holmes’ sentencing to 26 September, motioned Judge Davila to have it converted to cash or the equivalent in personal property. The defense agreed, perhaps mindful of the appeal deadline of 4 March with hearings in June.

Ms. Holmes does own property, though it is unknown what her remaining assets are since she never sold her Theranos holdings. Her partner and family can help her with the requirement. Mercury News (paywalled, but refresh)  The Trial, ch. 1

Meanwhile, Sunny Balwani’s trial in the same Federal District court and with Judge Davila starts next Wednesday 9 March with jury selection. Balwani was indicted in 2018 on the same charges as Holmes’ but his trial was severed from Holmes’ when her defense raised charges of abuse. Judge Davila is making moves to ensure the trial moves along and does not suffer from the juror problems experienced with the Holmes trial. Six alternate jurors will be seated versus five in the Holmes trial, where three jurors were lost at the start, raising the possibility of mistrial. Hours will be longer, 9am to 3pm Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Fridays — including some Mondays and Thursdays. Concessions were made to Holmes with a young baby to attend to, which is not Balwani’s situation. Yahoo!News, KPIX5 San Francisco

And to those craving a true crime fiction take on l’affaire Theranos, Hulu is airing an eight-part series, entitled ‘The Dropout’, and starring Amanda Seyfried and a ‘wondrously vile’ Naveen Andrews. According to the WSJ review (free registration required) Seyfried gets the weird baritone and facial tics correctly (and correctly timed). But the reviewer notes that it’s hard to tell even from Seyfried’s excellent performance of a troubled girl/woman how she got so many older ‘sage’ men to believe in her Fraud Tech. Perhaps it was the fevered time in health tech, or as this Editor has said previously, fear of missing out or wanting to believe. We now have a generation of con artist millennials in the zeitgeist. The reviewer sums it well: “What the fraudsters also share is a counterfeit benevolence: Everyone is doing what they’re doing–and stealing what they’re stealing—for the benefit of mankind.” Yet there comes a time when the fever breaks, and the fraudsters get their comeuppance. For a lighter take, the NY Times article on clothing as reflective of character development on the show, Silicon Valley values, and Holmes’ ‘costuming’, is recommended.

The Theranos Trials, ch. 1: Holmes sentencing to be 26 September, three mistrial charges dropped, appeal dates set

Yesterday, Elizabeth Holmes’ next few months were outlined for her.

Her sentencing for the four charges on which she was convicted [TTA 4 Jan] will be 26 September by the trial judge, Judge Edward Davila. The delay in sentencing due to the ‘ongoing proceeding’ of the Sunny Balwani trial (scheduled to start 15 March) was revealed in a joint filing by the prosecution and Holmes’ defense. The filing confirmed that the prosecution would file a motion today (Friday) to dismiss the three deadlocked charges and that she will remain out of custody on a $500,000 bond secured by personal property, increased by request of the prosecution.

Judge Davila also set a deadline of 4 March for filing post-trial motions he will hear, such as an appeal by Holmes’ defense, with the hearing set for 16 June.  Fox News, Yahoo!News

Meanwhile, the Silicon Valley Home Town Newspaper, the Mercury News, waxed on how difficult life will be for Holmes’ baby after her incarceration, even in a minimum-security Federal prison (colloquially known as Club Fed). It is highly unlikely that she will face the extreme hardships of women facing hard time, imprisoned thousands of miles away from their families, or losing their children to foster care because there are no family caregivers. The Federal Bureau of Prisons tries to place low-risk prisoners like her within 500 miles of home. There is visitation time. Also cushioning this is Holmes’ own family and an affluent partner, Billy Evans, who has stayed by her side. Reportedly, they live with their son at a home rented on an estate in an affluent San Jose suburb, Woodside. But after the appeals (and money) are exhausted, the long sentence will likely be served, and then will come the tough part for the child growing up without a mother. 

The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 17: looking inside the juror decision process

How does a juror–and jury–process multiple counts, witnesses, a defendant, and an avalanche of information without drowning? ABC News interviewed Juror #6, Wayne Kaatz, an actor, voice talent, and scriptwriter. We rarely get a glimpse inside the jury box of a high-profile case. It’s well described, which isn’t surprising given that Mr. Kaatz is a writer, mostly for children’s programs. In short, “working class” show biz.

  • They grappled with the ultimately deadlocked three charges–and felt they had failed (Ch. 16)
  • Early on, they discarded the charges involving patients, considering Elizabeth Holmes ‘one step removed’ from them
  • They scored witnesses’ testimonies and Holmes on a 1-4 scale, from not credible to most credible. Adam Rosendorff, the lab director that the defense went after hard, scored a four. Holmes–a two.
  • They were sympathetic towards Holmes, finding her “likable”, with a “positive dream”. 
  • The decision to find her guilty on the four fraud counts centered on her “final approval” and that she “owned everything”.  

About the process, they selected a younger man as their foreman from the eight men and four women. They shared initial verdicts on paper scraps and laid out information on a timeline. The jurors got along well over the months-long trial culminating in 50+ hours of deliberation, working on puzzles and swapping sandwiches. 

Mr. Kaatz closed his thoughts: “It was an honor. It was a duty, I did it. I’m done.” Little drama, not ‘Law and Order’ or ‘Twelve Angry Men’. ABC News–and do read the interesting comments, but only halfway through before it devolves into hair-pulling on a wholly different event.

The Wall Street Journal’s follow-up (paywalled text, but audio is not) focuses on Juror #8 (Susanna Stefanek) finding the “smoking guns” as the altered pharmaceutical “endorsements”, singling out Pfizer’s, and the fictional financial projections.

Vox goes into Holmes as Hollywood will be seeing her, with Hulu and Apple treatments teeing up. The NY Times goes on about Holmes being a product of Silicon Valley culture–the puffery, the one-upmanship, and believing their own press releases. But for now, we can give it a rest…till Sunny Balwani’s trial starts.

Breaking–The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 16: guilty on four charges of 11

Breaking. Elizabeth Holmes, founder and CEO of Theranos, was found guilty on four charges of wire fraud of the 11 charges brought by the prosecution. The guilty charges are, according to the reports in the New York Times and the Mercury News (paywalled, but keep refreshing), all related to wire fraud against investors. Counts six through eight are fraud against specific investors. The TTA articles relating to each are linked.

  1. Count one of conspiring to commit wire fraud against investors in Theranos between 2010 and 2015
  2. Count six of wire fraud in connection with a wire transfer of $38,336,632 on or about Feb. 6, 2014. This was part of the $96 million PFM Health Sciences investment detailed in Chapter 9.
  3. Count seven of wire fraud in connection with a wire transfer of $99,999,984 on or about Oct. 31, 2014. This was the DeVos family trust investment (RDV Corp.) in Chapter 5.
  4. Count eight of wire fraud in connection with a wire transfer of $5,999,997 on or about Oct. 31, 2014, made by Daniel Mosley, a financial advisor to Henry Kissinger. Mr. Kissinger was an early investor and sat on the Theranos board (Chapter 6).

Each one of these charges carries time up to 20 years, but in Federal financial fraud cases, time is usually served concurrently. Judge Edward Davila of the US District Court, Northern District of California, will sentence at a later date to be announced.

It’s expected that Holmes will appeal. The issues of emotional and physical abuse, with Svengali-like control on her judgment, at the hands of Sunny Balwani were not enough for this jury to dismiss the key financial fraud charges. They clearly decided that Holmes was fully capable of engineering fraud, not just once but several times. But with the defense having seeded a backdrop of abuse, it may prove mitigating on appeal. (No, this Editor does not believe that Judge Davila will even refer to that during sentencing, having strictly advised the jury to not consider that during deliberations.)

Holmes was found not guilty on three fraud charges against patients and a fourth relating to advertising and marketing services to patients:

  • Count two of conspiring to commit wire fraud against patients who paid for Theranos’s blood testing services between 2013 and 2016
  • Count 10 of wire fraud in connection with a patient’s laboratory blood test results on or about May 11, 2015
  • Count 11 of wire fraud in connection with a patient’s laboratory blood test results on or about May 16, 2015. These two counts pertained to false results on HIV and prostate cancer.
  • Count 12 of wire fraud in connection with a wire transfer of $1,126,661 on or about Aug. 3, 2015 to Horizon Media for advertising and marketing services for the Walgreens launch.

Given the above, was The Verge (Chapter 15) correct in stating that patient fraud, with the concomitant distress and potential for injury, is less important than financial fraud? Or was the case less well made? 

No verdict was reached on an additional three charges relating to wire transfers in December 2013 by other investors. These apparently were the charges that the jury deadlocked on earlier today: 

  • Count three of wire fraud in connection with a wire transfer of $99,990 on or about Dec. 30, 2013. This was part of the investments made from 2006 to 2013 by private investor Alan Eisenman detailed in Chapter 8. Eisenman was a contentious and offputting witness, and will not have any satisfaction.
  • Count four of wire fraud in connection with a wire transfer of $5,349,900 on or about Dec. 31, 2013. This was an investment by Black Diamond Ventures headed by Chris Lucas, nephew of Don Lucas who was on the Theranos board (Chapter 6).
  • Count five of wire fraud in connection with a wire transfer of $4,875,000 on or about Dec. 31, 2013. This was an investment by the Hall Group.

One additional charge (nine according to the Times, 10 according to the Mercury News) was dropped. The Times article also provides a preview on the next trial–Sunny Balwani. Man of Mystery, or just a lucky sod who made a bundle of money from a dot.com?

The trial started on 8 September and concluded just before Christmas. Deliberations took about 50 hours. 

Also CNBC and ABC News. Let the opinion slinging begin!

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes closes, ch. 15: she believed! in the technology!

The defense returned to their closing arguments on Friday. According to lead defense attorney Kevin Downey, not only did Holmes appoint a stellar board, but also the evidence showed that she believed intensely in the Theranos technology changing the world.

  • Holmes stayed till the end trying to save the company–because she believed in improving healthcare
  • She continued to improve the company and the technology, but after all that she didn’t realize…
  • …that the labs had problems until March 2016, when her very last lab director, Kingshuk Das, MD, invalidated 60,000 lab tests made on Theranos labs in 2014-2015.
    • This happened only after CMS sent a deficiency report notice to Dr. Das’ predecessor with the subject line  “CONDITION LEVEL DEFICIENCIES – IMMEDIATE JEOPARDY.” And that lab directors and techs had already told Holmes about problems with the Edison labs.
  • The proof of her sincerity? If she committed fraud, she would have sold her stock while it still had value, and jumped ship like a scared rat!

Interestingly, Downey made no mention of Sunny Balwani, except that Holmes fired him in 2016. No mention of all the time spent in her testimony depicting Balwani as a mentally and physically abusive Svengali, which led Holmes-as-Trilby to not be in control of herself as CEO, even after he departed.

The prosecution returned for rebuttals. John Bostic countered the defense claim of Holmes’ belief with “the disease that plagued Theranos wasn’t a lack of effort, it was a lack of honesty.” “We see a CEO of a company who was so desperate for the company to succeed, so afraid of failure, that she was willing to do anything.” Bostic also reminded the jury that they needed to put Holmes’ claims of emotional abuse by Balwani aside since there was “no evidence connecting the allegations of abuse with the actual charged conduct.” 

Judge Edward Davila, in winding up 14 weeks of trial, then charged the jury to avoid consideration of or speculation on the abuse, and to disregard both public opinion and Holmes’ place in society. They could consider whether Holmes had a “good faith belief” in the truth of her statements. The jury will return Monday morning to start deliberations. The fraud charges include conspiracy between Holmes and Balwani against patients and investors. Two more charges are related to patients receiving erroneous test results on HIV infection and prostate cancer. One is on fraudulent marketing and advertising. Six more charges are about investor fraud. 

AP, Mercury News (paywall–refresh to read)

Because it’s the weekend, your Editor will include two extra articles. The Verge article reads something like a screed against our legal system valuing money fraud over patient medical fraud. The NY Times article is on the latest Holmes makeover. During the trial, she changed from hard-edged, black turtleneck, red-lipsticked Lady Steve Jobs to suburban-junior-manager-working mom in off the rack wrinkled skirts, peachy pink lip color with curled but messy hair, carrying an inexpensive baby bag. All calculated by her defense to create an illusion of innocence and, this Editor would add, incapability of any dastardly acts, such as financial and medical fraud.

To be continued…

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 14, Chapter 13Chapter 12Chapter 11Chapter 10, (10-13 recap the Holmes testimony); Chapter 9Chapter 8Chapter 7Chapter 6Chapter 5Chapter 4 (w/comment from Malcolm Fisk)Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes closes, ch. 14: was it fraud over business failure–or building a company, not a criminal enterprise?

The flat spin starts as the trial winds up. On Thursday, the prosecution presented its closing argument to the jury, and the defense began its summary which will finish on Friday.

The key prosecution points made by Assistant US Attorney Jeffrey Schenk were:

  • Elizabeth Holmes’ decisions were all hers. She first defrauded investors, then deceived patients.
  • “She chose fraud over business failure. She chose to be dishonest with investors and with patients.”
  • Elizabeth Holmes was not a young, naive CEO. She had headed Theranos for nearly a decade. But it was ‘a house of cards.’
  • A decision about Sunny Balwani’s abuse is not pertinent to the case and does not have to be made to reach a verdict. 
  • That has to be made on whether this was deliberate investor and patient fraud.“Ms. Holmes knew these honest statements would not have led to any revenue,” Schenk said. “She chose a different path.”

Mr. Schenk reviewed the testimony of all 29 witnesses and statements made by Holmes herself, with the specific aim of refuting every defense point made about her not being aware that the technology didn’t work, or that she was not in charge of the marketing, advertising, business development, partnerships, and finances. He put a very fine and obvious point on it with a chart for the jury entitled “Knowledge of falsity,” which listed her false statements alongside exhibits.

Enter the defense, represented by Kevin Downey. He started by telling the jurors that they had a high burden of proof in finding Holmes guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”and that crucial information was left out of the government’s case. It was ‘incomplete’ and that their opinion would change with his review of the evidence. Holmes acted ‘in good faith’. In that review, Downey provided illustrations of 11 successful partnerships Theranos had with drug companies. As to the board, he pointed out that they were not cronies who one would expect in a fraudulent enterprise; “She appointed these people, an incredibly illustrious group of people.”

The defense continues on Friday. The jury will be given instructions after the defense concludes, and it’s expected they will have over the holidays to deliberate. MercuryNews (paywalled but refresh repeatedly to view), CNBC, The Guardian

To be continued….

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 13, Chapter 12Chapter 11Chapter 10, (10-13 recap the Holmes testimony); Chapter 9Chapter 8Chapter 7Chapter 6Chapter 5Chapter 4 (w/comment from Malcolm Fisk)Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 13: a crescendo of ‘I don’t knows’ and ‘I don’t remembers’…and the defense rests! (updated)

Elizabeth Holmes returned to the stand in her own defense today, continuing with cross-examination by the prosecution’s Robert Leach. From the coverage published so far of six hours of questioning, Holmes has done everything to deny key statements she made multiple times to writers and investors, just short of ‘taking the Fifth’ (Amendment, which is a Constitutional guard against self-incrimination). 

Starting with the now-infamous 2014 Fortune cover story authored by Roger Parloff, Holmes admitted to Leach that the claim of 200 tests using the equally infamous nanotainers was incorrect, but used what marketers call ‘weasel words’: “I believe that now.” Did she not believe that then? She then proceeded not to remember that she forwarded the article via email to investors on 12 June 2014. “I think I could have handled those communications differently.” 

More not knowing or remembering. Were Theranos labs being used on military medevacs, as witnesses from Walgreens and Safeway, among others, have testified? Was Walgreens told of difficulties with the Theranos labs? Did or didn’t she dismiss concerns raised by Erika Cheung and Tyler Shultz to John Carreyrou of the WSJ as coming from disgruntled employees? Did she present a 2015 revenue projection of nearly $1 billion to investors, especially as the internal estimate was much lower and there were no contracts with pharma companies? Did she listen to her lab directors about problems with the tests?

But regrets, she had a few. The WSJ investigation, for instance. And slapping pharma company logos on Theranos reports.

It all comes down to who the jury believes. The prosecution either will close today or tomorrow (Wednesday). The defense will return to wrap up, either with Holmes or with expert witnesses such as Mindy Mechanic and, possibly, others. The defense will return to the 3 Ds–diffusion, deflection, and diminished capacity. The luridly resonant theme of Sunny Balwani as an abusive Svengali, which led her to be not in control of herself even after he departed, will be the coda. The Guardian, CNBC

Wednesday Update. Boy, was your Editor wrong. The defense rested today (Wednesday).

  • Dr. Mindy Mechanic, the defense’ expert on relationship violence, will not be testifying about the nature of the Balwani-Holmes relationship. By not calling Dr. Mechanic, the prosecution cannot call their psychiatrists who also spoke with the defendants. For his part, Balwani has consistently defended himself from these charges of relationship abuse. The prosecution is also seeking to strike Holmes’ testimony of being sexually assaulted while a freshman at Stanford as now being irrelevant to the case, but it is hard for a jury to unhear it.
  • Holmes was, of course, the star witness in her own defense, joined in minor roles by paralegal Trent Middleton from Williams & Connolly, Holmes’ law firm, who summarized evidence in the case, then former Theranos board member Fabrizio Bonanni, who testified that Holmes attempted to remedy Theranos’ problems–but only after it came under regulatory scrutiny, which was late in the game. He had been offered the COO position but declined as ‘too old for that’.
  • Holmes returned in her final testimony to Balwani. Sunny, she said, was her most important advisor though she was, admittedly, the decision-maker. He was volatile. She “tried not to ignite” Balwani in emails and frequent texts. “Sunny would often blow off steam or vent through text,” Holmes said. “I was trying to be supportive.”
  • Returning to tugging on the heartstrings of the four women on the jury, she stated that breaking up with him was a ‘process’. He’d just show up at places she would go, like church and The Dish near Stanford. 
  • Holmes explicitly denied ever trying to mislead investors, Her own summary was restating her original ‘healthcare vision’ and the impact the company would make on healthcare.

Summaries by the prosecution and defense will be next up. Mercury News (partial paywall), CNBC

To be continued…

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 12, Chapter 11Chapter 10Chapter 9Chapter 8Chapter 7Chapter 6Chapter 5Chapter 4 (w/comment from Malcolm Fisk)Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 12: all bucks stop with the CEO (updated)

Tuesday was the last day this week of Elizabeth Holmes’ cross-examination by Federal prosecutors. Despite Monday’s excursion by the defense into how emotional and physical abuse by her live-in partner and corporate president could have warped her business judgment (a ‘me-too’ variation on the infamous Twinkie Defense relating to diminished capacity), and perhaps concealed from her the depth of Theranos’ problems, the cross-examination returned to the essentials. Who was the boss? Assistant US Attorney Robert Leach drew from her this: “Ultimately all roads led to the CEO?” “Yes,” she replied. “The buck stops with you.“ “I felt that.” 

The prosecution was highly effective in drawing out of her how Holmes controlled the company, and despite her claims of not knowing its finances, she knew what to say to round up funding. This countered the emotional drama of the prior day around ‘Svengali’ Balwani’s abuse and controlling actions. Holmes confirmed that she was the New Elizabeth in her hands-on role in altering pharma company reports, marketing materials, investor presentations, knowing their financials–and trying to kill unfavorable stories:

  • She added logos to Theranos’ pharma reports about partnerships with Pfizer and Schering-Plough to make it appear that the documents came from them. Add to these an altered analysis that came from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), where Holmes admitted adding a logo but couldn’t recall deleting the conclusion “finger prick/blood draw procedure was difficult (needed larger lancet and better syringe system).”
  • She hired lawyers to review the Theranos website for claims at the time of the Walgreens launch in 2013. The language drew quite the critical eye for its language in their report to her. Our Readers will recognize these walk-backs on superiority claims: replacing “highest quality” with “high quality,” “highest levels of accuracy” with “high levels of accuracy,” and “more precise” to “precise.” Claims made needed to be substantiated. It’s not clear from the articles whether these were made.
  • Where walk-backs on these claims were most certainly not made were the investor presentations, including not disclosing that most testing was done on third-party machines, leaving the impression that Theranos labs were capable of running 1,000 tests.
  • Texts between Balwani and Holmes confirmed she knew that Theranos was in critical financial shape throughout 2013, burning through funding like tinder. 2014 was ‘fake till you make it’ time with sunny (sic) revenue projections–convincing to PFM Management and the DeVos family office, kicking in funds totaling close to $200 million, and then a cascade of funds following them. All of whom should have known better, admittedly.

In 2015, Holmes went directly to one of her investors, Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corporation and owner of the Wall Street Journal, to have John Carreyrou’s investigative reports killed. To Murdoch’s great credit, not only did the stories run, but also Carreyrou was legally defended against the mad-dog attorneys of Boies Schiller snapping at his heels. Boies Schiller also harassed and tracked former employees-turned-whistleblowers Erika Cheung and Tyler Shultz. Holmes also approved hiring the killer ‘oppo’ research of Fusion GPS. The latter became infamous a year later in sourcing and promoting now-debunked ‘evidence’ of Russian ties to then-candidate Donald Trump.

To counter the rising tide of negative news, Holmes went on CNBC’s ‘Mad Money’, hosted by, in this Editor’s opinion, the ever-credulous, often unhinged, and in recent years de trop Jim Cramer, and bald-face lied that “Every test we run on our laboratory can run on our proprietary devices.”–when only 12 did, not even the 15 Carreyrou documented.

It isn’t known yet whether Holmes will return to the stand next week for more cross-examination or a rebuttal by the defense. What is most likely is that the defense will continue with the themes of diffusion and deflection, creating cognitive dissonance in the jurors’ minds that while Holmes acted in control and committed fraudulent acts, Balwani had so thoroughly emotionally abused her that she was not in control of herself even after he departed. Look for expert testimony from Mindy Mechanic, an expert on intimate partner violence and abuse, to show that words of ‘love’ in 500-odd texts isn’t love at all. (Cue ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’)

The Verge, CNBC, Yahoo Finance, Ars Technica

Updated: Theranos junkies (Judge Davila’s pronunciation of which is the subject of an entire Mercury News article) may want to follow John Carreyrou’s podcast, epically titled Bad Blood: The Final Chapter. He’s up to 11 episodes and close to 11 hours, so if you think your Editor is focused on this…it’s a deep dive indeed from the reporter who found that Theranos should have been spelled with an F for Fake. The link here is to the ThreeUncannyFour player, but Sony Media has made it available on other podcast platforms such as Spotify.

To be continued…

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 11, Chapter 10Chapter 9Chapter 8Chapter 7Chapter 6Chapter 5Chapter 4 (w/comment from Malcolm Fisk)Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

 

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 11: Holmes’ widening gyre of diffusion of blame–and abuse

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats 

Elizabeth Holmes’ defense continues its strategy of deflection, diffusion of blame, and now psychological abuse. Ms. Holmes and her defense hit its stride today with Holmes recounting, in this lurid Mercury News headline, “Theranos president Balwani forced sex on Holmes, she testifies” (PDF attached if paywalled). This is far more interesting and clickbaitable than, say, her fan dance around regretting tacking on Pfizer and Schering-Plough logos on falsified reports, or denying that she ever said to investors, repeatedly, that the Theranos labs were being used by the US military in medevacs and in the field. The jury, ground down to numbness by the prosecution’s mile-high-pile of false documents and claims, surely woke up with Holmes’ upset and tears on the stand.

It started with her meeting Sunny Balwani on a trip to China when she was 18 (and he was 38), entering and then departing Stanford because she had been raped, compensating by dedicating herself to developing her high school idea on blood testing, and moving in with him. There was more than a bit of Svengali dynamic here, with her quoting Balwani’s rough talk of transforming her into ‘the new Elizabeth’ who’d be savvy about business and successful, versus “I didn’t know what I was doing in business, that my convictions were wrong, that he was astonished at my mediocrity and that if I followed my instincts I was going to fail, and I needed to kill the person who I was in order to be what he called the new Elizabeth”. She needed to work seven days a week, eat prescribed crunchy vegetables and grains (reading like a trendy SF restaurant menu), and see her family less. He would guide her and tell her what to do.

Holmes looked up to Balwani as a successful entrepreneur; he had joined a reverse auction startup called CommerceBid, eventually becoming president, and cashed out with $40 million as part of its $200 million sale to Commerce One in 2002. Between that and Theranos a few years later, however, Balwani left nary a shadow on Silicon Valley. At Theranos, Holmes became the public founder/face and Balwani the behind-the-scenes business planner–plus a bare knucks ‘enforcer’ on the daily life of the company, according to John Carreyrou. Business Insider

The rest of the story is about Balwani’s getting rough with her when she ‘displeased’ him, rough enough to be hurt, swollen, and not able to get up, in her account from a 2015 incident. She moved out the following year and he left the company in May 2016. Not all Pygmalion stories end well and all too often, they end like this.  

Yet the prosecution has provided another pile–of texts between Holmes and Balwani which, in between the mundane, are effusive in pronouncements of eternal love and support. These continued after his departure. Business Insider and full texts here

The defense has its own pile of deflection going, with the aim of creating doubt that Holmes was really at the center of the fraud, and more of a pawn, in Holmes’ own words:

  • Balwani was in charge of the financial projections and operations. Holmes testified that Balwani’s financial modeling produced discrepancies in revenue projections in 2014 and 2015. The Walgreens relationship also cratered at that time. This reinforces the defense opening back in September that relying on Balwani as president was one of her mistakes.
  • Validation? Adam Rosendorff, a former lab director, was less than competent [TTA 6 Oct]
  • Not disclosing about using third-party devices? A ‘trade secret’ recommended by legal counsel.
  • And the marketing/PR claim about Theranos using only ‘a single drop of blood’? (And all that ‘passionate intensity’ Holmes exhibited at investor conferences and interviews?) Blame TBWA/Chiat/Day, the ad agency! And Patrick O’Neill, who went from executive creative director there to creative director of Theranos and prepped her for the press including her 2014 TED speech. (Take a trip back and watch a few Theranos spots, courtesy of Refinery29. High on image, low on reality.)

Diffusion of responsibility is common in fraud cases. Wired quoted David Alan Sklansky, a professor of criminal law at Stanford. “It’s probably the most common kind of defense mounted in cases involving allegations of large-scale financial fraud,” he says. “Whether it works depends on how credible it seems to the jury.”

The hazard is that it makes Holmes appear incompetent, but incompetence beats 11 counts and 20 years in Club Fed.

What is the jury to believe about her competence? From the Mercury News again: “Asked by Downey whether Balwani ever forced her to make statements to investors or journalists that the prosecution has focused on, or whether he controlled her interactions with board members or executives from companies Theranos sought to work with, she said no. Asked what impact her relationship with Balwani had on her work, she responded, “I don’t know. He impacted everything about who I was, and I don’t fully understand that.” Holmes made statements on her own, frequently and over many years. She stated she wasn’t controlled by Balwani when it came to the board or business partnerships–and continued running the company after his departure and attempting to fix a myriad of problems. But what will the jury take away from this day? This, or Sunny getting blue on her?

Also Fortune 23 Nov and 25 Nov

To be continued…

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 10, Chapter 9Chapter 8Chapter 7Chapter 6Chapter 5Chapter 4 (w/comment from Malcolm Fisk)Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 9: the cold $96 million (updated 19 Nov)

On which may well hang how many years Elizabeth Holmes spends in prison. Yesterday’s testimony by Brian Grossman, chief investment officer at PFM Health Sciences, may be the prosecution coup de grace in drawing a picture in bold colors, no pale pastels, of deliberate deception and fraud.

Previous testimony spun tales of family offices and highly wealthy individuals such as Rupert Murdoch (and not so wealthy such as Alan Eisenman) being easily lulled by the Social Network spinning. They were gulled by the whiz-bang technology–Elizabeth Holmes’ and Sunny Balwani’s nanotainers, miniature Edison labs–as well as their fake claims of Theranos labs on Army medevacs and false letters from multiple international pharmaceutical manufacturers vetting their technology. Safeway and Walgreens executives had a more complicated tap dance, coming on board at not much past the idea stage, and staying in through a combination of Wanting To Believe, Competitive Embarrassment, and Heads Wanting To Stay In Place at having to write off hundreds of millions of dollars in public companies. 

Mr. Grossman in fact was and is the managing and founding partner, as well as CIO, of PFM. It’s located not on Sand Road but in (relatively) sober San Francisco. Founded in 2004, PFM specializes in early-stage and diversity health-focused investment, and currently manages over $2 billion in public and private funds. Lark Health is one of their recent investments [TTA 14 Oct]. Their Crunchbase profile demonstrates active investment in multiple operating companies. He and his firm are of some substance.

Something about Theranos got his attention–not the social networking, but the all-in-one miniature labs that condensed thousands of feet of lab into a small box. He was told that the entire Phoenix market could be served with labs fitting into about 200 square feet. Grossman knew a competitor, Quest Diagnostics, would need hundreds of thousands of square feet of space to match that. 

What caused him not to be skeptical? Of course, the mythical military involvement and pharma endorsements first, but then….

  • Projections of $30 million in 2014 income from pharma companies–alone. Needless to say, no income in 2012 or 2013 would raise a red flag for some, but not necessarily for PFM in early-stage companies.
  • Four-hour turnaround on lab results in retail, one hour in hospitals–carefully concealing the wildly uneven results from the Edison labs resulting in third-party labs being used for retail, and his own personal result of over a day on a full venous draw, not a finger stick.
  • Holmes was “very clear that this technology was not a point-of-care test, not a point-of-care testing platform, it was a miniaturized lab,” he said. That alone smelled like a 20-ounce porterhouse steak off the grill. 
  • While Balwani nixed Grossman speaking with Walgreens and UnitedHealth, Channing Robertson of Stanford, who helped Holmes start Theranos, vetted their labs as extremely advanced technology–one with which competitors would spend years catching up–for a serious investor, sauce, potato, vegetables, and trimmings on that sizzling steak

Unlike the picture the defense is painting of Balwani controlling Holmes, Grossman took care to note that Holmes, not Balwani, did most of the talking at the time. While he found the company highly secretive, he, unfortunately, discounted it. So in went PFM’s $96 million in February 2014, which included $2.2 million from a designated ‘friends and family fund’ which had investments from low-income people.

Three years later, PFM also won its own fraud case against Theranos, settling its lawsuit for about half–an estimated $40-50 million (WSJ; CNBC claims $46 million). The timing was good–it was while the company still had some money to claw back [TTA 26 June 2017].

What happened to PFM and other investors shook up Silicon Valley for years and, as much as some may deny it, health tech investment plus tarnished the image of women heading health tech companies. Some of the reasons why this case has received international attention. CNBC, The VergeNBCBayArea

Updated. Where the prosecution would go in its final days of its case–they may be wrapping this week–would they have trouble topping this for the jury, after piling similar fraud high and wide? But, in this Editor’s estimation, they brought it all back home for the jury by putting Roger Parloff, author of the 2014 Fortune cover story, ‘This CEO Is Out For Blood”, on the stand. His articles, recordings, and notes put into sharp relief and in summary the full fraud–all the fraudulent statements the company presented, versus the reality presented by the witnesses and evidence in the courtroom. At the time, the Fortune article fueled the current investors and served to bring in more, such as the DeVos family. Parloff over a year later wrote a column stating that he had not only been misled, but also failed to get to the bottom of what he termed “certain exasperatingly opaque answers that I repeatedly received”. Parloff was also the “beating heart” of a 2019 HBO documentary, “The Inventor”. CNN Business

Updated 19 Nov: But now it will be the defense’s turn to surprise. 

The New York Times, in a well-padded piece, speculates on the obvious–whether Holmes will be put on the stand to directly testify about  “how Sunny made her do it”–Sunny Balwani’s private psychological manipulations, all of which seemed to be well-hidden at the time. Stand by, it may get lurid.

But first for hilarity. The prosecution rested. The defense’s first move was to request that the court acquit Holmes on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Then amazingly, Holmes took the stand. Judge Davila dismissed one fraud count against Holmes, leaving only 11. We’ll pick this up next week.

To be continued….

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 8, Chapter 7, Chapter 6Chapter 5Chapter 4 (w/comment from Malcolm Fisk)Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 8: choosing investors with more money than sense a winning strategy

The prosecution continues to pile up defrauded investors–but this one may backfire on them. Alan Eisenman invested about $1.2 million in Theranos in 2006 on behalf of himself and his family–after a five-minute phone call with Elizabeth Holmes. As an early investor, he also believed he was entitled to special treatment, such as direct talks with Holmes, frequent enough to the point where she offered to buy out his shares for five times their value and cut off contact. 

Later, he had other opportunities to sell his shares up to nearly 20 times their purchase price, but held on stating he didn’t have enough information on what was apparently a ‘liquidity event’. Lack of information was a persistent red flag, with gaps in communication from 2010 to 2012 and a contentious relationship with Sunny Balwani. Despite this, when Theranos needed money in 2013, he then invested an additional $100,000 despite no audited statements since 2009. This last investment became one of the government’s counts of wire fraud.

In his testimony, Eisenman testified that like others, he was initially impressed that Oracle founder Larry Ellison was involved with the company and that Theranos had contracts with six international pharmaceutical companies including Pfizer and Novartis–which was blatantly false.

This incredible narrative becomes more understandable when you understand Holmes’ strategy of choosing only ‘high-quality investors’ of the family fund sort. She targeted funders who weren’t knowledgeable and meticulous in examining the company books and the technology. The funders were also oh-so-socially connected. According to The Verge, Eisenman was ‘wired’ into Theranos–“he was friends with the Holmes’ family’s financial advisor [David Harris], who had also invested. Plus, his wife’s father, who had also invested, was friendly with [Bill] Frist, who was on the board.” Eisenman contacted Frist as well when he was essentially cut off from Holmes about 2010. 

Surely Eisenman was entitled to be upset and more than a little embarrassed, as a former money manager and financial planner. But then his actions dealing with the prosecution left a Mack truck-sized opening for the defense on the cross-examination. He sent an email to the prosecution team perhaps 15 hours after he finished his direct examination last Wednesday, strictly against instructions. He did it again on Friday, ostensibly about travel plans. An assistant US attorney called him to remind him not to contact them again. The defense leveraged this into the compromising position of being biased against Holmes beyond his actual loss, for instance a purported statement he made “upon entering the courtroom” about wanting Holmes to go to prison.

Coming so late in the trial–the prosecution may rest this week–the abrasive impression that Alan Eisenman left may leave an opposite impression on the jury that favors the defense interpretation of naïve investors who didn’t do their due diligence homework, and by extension, deserved to lose their money. CNBC 15 Nov, 10 Nov

To be continued….

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 7, Chapter 6Chapter 5Chapter 4 (w/comment from Malcolm Fisk)Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 7: Edison labs consistent–in deficiency and strange results

And Elizabeth Holmes knew. The last two years of Theranos’ existence, were, to put it mildly, fraught, for anyone honest. Job 1 for the very last in a parade of lab directors, Kingshuk Das, MD, was to respond to CMS on substantial deficiencies found in a November 2015 on-site inspection. The CMS deficiency report, sent to the prior lab director in January 2016, two months before Dr. Das’ start, had a subject line that would grab anyone’s immediate attention: “CONDITION LEVEL DEFICIENCIES – IMMEDIATE JEOPARDY.”

The report went on to say that it was determined that your facility is not in compliance with all of the Conditions required for certification in the CLIA program.” and concluded that “the deficient practices of the laboratory pose immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety.”

Dr. Das found some interesting things in his early days on the job, such as the Edison labs producing results detecting abnormal levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA)–in female patients. When he brought this to Holmes’ attention, she quoted a few journal articles stating that certain rare breast cancers in women might present that result. This didn’t seem quite plausible to Dr. Das. Holmes then told him that it wasn’t an instrument failure, but rather a quality control and quality assurance issue. Nevertheless, Dr. Das went back and voided every Edison lab test made in 2014 and 2015, stating to Holmes that the Edison labs were not performing from the start. Most Theranos results sent to patients were produced on third-party machines made by Siemens and others, often on inadequately sized blood samples. 

As Dr. Das testified to the defense, many skilled people at Theranos earnestly tried to fix the problems with the Edison lab machines, but, as The Verge put it in part, if Holmes didn’t believe Dr. Das, other employees, or multiple preceding lab directors that the machines were really, truly broken, did it matter?

The defense is maintaining that Holmes didn’t really understand the lab details and was heavily influenced (ahem!) by president Sunny Balwani. However, the Babe in the Medical Startup Woods defense falls apart when there’s no Sunny to blame–he departed shortly after Dr. Das’ arrival. 

The actual theme–a long-term pattern of deception aimed at those who wanted to believe, and ponied up Big Bucks--was reinforced by a witness before Dr. Das. Lynette Sawyer was a temporary co-lab director for six months during 2014 and 2015, but never came to the Theranos site. It seems that her main duties were signing off remotely on documents using Docusign and backing up then-lab director Dr. Sunil Dhawan, Balwani’s dermatologist who came to the lab a handful of times. Even more amazingly, she was unaware of Theranos’ signature ‘nanotainers’ and the backup use of third-party devices. After her six-month contract was up, she departed, uncomfortable with Theranos’ procedures.

Kicking off the day was Judge Davila’s regular admonition to those in the public section of the courtroom to type vewy, vewy quietly. Then the video display for exhibits broke down. This led to a two-hour delay while the court found an antique projector to show the images to the jury and the public on a blank wall.

One wonders if the tapping plus the tech breakdown topping off the Parade of Fraud is leaving the jurors numb–or wanting to jump into the well above, even if there is no bottom. CNBC, Wall Street Journal (15 Oct), 5KPIX

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 6, Chapter 5Chapter 4 (w/comment from Malcolm Fisk)Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

To be continued….

 

 

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 6: the decision maker was Holmes–and she was ‘cagey’

Judge Davila is speeding up the trial, adding hours and days–perhaps because the damning testimony has become depressingly similar. Were the investors sloppy, or did Theranos–and Holmes–deliberately deceive?

Maybe…both.

Documents and slideshows from Theranos glowed.

  • The company faked memos and reports from both Pfizer and Schering-Plough, which was in the process of being acquired by Merck. Schering-Plough’s Constance Cullen said she found CEO Elizabeth Holmes’ answers to technical questions “cagey” and she was blocked by Holmes from asking questions of other Theranos employees.
  • Presentations describing the Theranos lab capabilities were written in present, not future, tense. Example from the prosecution reading from an investor deck: “Theranos proprietary technology runs comprehensive blood tests from a finger stick.” Another slide was 10-Pinocchio-worthy: “Theranos has been comprehensively validated over the course of the last seven years by 10 of the 15 largest pharmaceutical companies, with hundreds of thousands of assays processed.”

These were good enough for investors like Lisa Peterson of the DeVos family office, who testified last week about their decision to put in $100 million. In fact, investors were Social Networking right to Theranos’ door. The well-connected Daniel Mosley, who invested “a little under $6 million” in Theranos, after his client and friend Henry Kissinger, a Theranos board member and $3 million investor, asked him to evaluate the company, in 2014 recommended it to his other clients–the DeVos, Walton ($150 million), and Cox ($10 million)  families. Black Diamond Ventures founder Chris Lucas invested $7 million in Theranos. He believed that Theranos’ analyzers were being used by the military in the Middle East. Presumably, his uncle Don Lucas, who sat on the Theranos board, backed up the claim. They were additionally impressed by Holmes’ intensity and insistence that the company was on a mission to revolutionize blood testing. Risk can be fashionable for ‘high-quality families’ who aren’t hands-on with their money and won’t experience hardship if the investment doesn’t pan out.

The investors like Peterson and Mosley believed what they were shown was steak, not marshmallow, like projected revenue of $140 million in 2014 after zero revenue in the two prior years. They didn’t examine the books, other key corporate records, or make a technical evaluation of the labs. Why? “We were very careful not to circumvent things and upset Elizabeth,” Peterson of the DeVos office said. “If we did too much, we wouldn’t be invited back to invest.” Ooof. But on their side, in 2014-2015, the winds of hype were blowing fair, the skies were blue on CNBC, and Walgreens plus Safeway were lashed to the mizzenmast. The Verge, CNBC, KTVU Fox 2

The defense keeps pinning blame on the investors for being naïve, which is taken up by the NY Times. With 20/20 hindsight and infinite wisdom, the article blames the investors for not being scrupulous in their due diligence. A fair point made is that in ‘hot’ startup markets, no one looks too closely for the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)–something we see this very day.

Holmes’ chances of pinning the blame on president/boyfriend ‘Sunny’ Balwani and evading any lengthy time are low at best.

  • The defense sub-strategy of painting Holmes as controlled by Balwani appears to be augering in. CNBC uncovered a 27 June 2018 videotaped deposition in an investor lawsuit, eventually settled, where Holmes, in between taking the Fifth Amendment, also claimed she was the ultimate decision-maker at Theranos.
  • An analysis published in the Mercury News (PDF), through the paywall, is not sanguine about Holmes beating the odds and walking free, or with minimal time. However, juries do strange things in assessing fraud, even when piled high and wide by the prosecution, out of sheer boredom or cussedness. Holmes is also surrounded by family, friends, baby on breaks, and baby papa, all of which can sway some jurors.

So as the trial passes the halfway corner, we observers are waiting for a final bombshell–or two.

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 5, Chapter 4 (see new comment from Malcolm Fisk)Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

To be continued….

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 5: how to easily fool rich people and their investment offices

It seems like smart people with big money like to jump into wells with no bottom, too. Yesterday’s testimony by Lisa Peterson in the Elizabeth Holmes trial indicated that Ms. Holmes knew her ‘marks’ as well as any grifter at the horse track. She concentrated on Very Rich People, whose Very Large Private Investment Funds are handled by ‘family offices’. Those offices handled investments for families such as DeVos (one of the top 100 richest families in the US), Walton (Walmart), and Cox (media). Holmes targeted five or six of these family offices, with the come-on line that she was seeking them because, after all, institutional investors wanted to recoup their investment via going public too soon for the Miracle Blood Lab.

Perhaps it was the prospect (and prestige) of backing a revolutionary healthcare technology, or large denominations falling from the sky, or just leaving it to their advisors, but they believed the sizzle, didn’t check that the steak was soy–and lost up to nine-figure sums. For these family offices, and for Rupert Murdoch, the losses were embarrassing, not life-affecting.

The former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos did not testify either, leaving it to Lisa Peterson, who oversees private equity investments for RDV Corp., the DeVos family office. Ms. Peterson, who wouldn’t have the job if she weren’t decently savvy, drew a picture for the prosecution of being consistently lied to by Ms. Holmes and Theranos executives before committing to a $99 million investment through its legal entity Dynasty Financial II, LLC on 31 October 2014:

  • Holmes and Balwani showed financial projections of $140 million in revenue in 2014 and $990 million in 2015. Peterson testified she did not know that both 2012 and 2013 had zero revenue–a real lapse on her part, in this Editor’s view
  • Theranos claimed validation by ten major pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer (in last week’s testimony, revealing that their validation was forged)
  • The RDV Corp. group was told multiple times that Theranos would offer hundreds of tests via finger stick with the analyzer at 50% of the cost
  • The DeVos investors supposedly never knew that third-party analyzers were doing all the testing. Both the pharma company validation and testing were critical in the underwriting agreement, Peterson said.
  • Holmes told Peterson the analyzers were being used in military helicopters (false) and that the company did not buy third-party analyzers (false, again).
  • Prior to the investment, three members of the DeVos family and Peterson’s boss Jerry Tubergen met with Holmes at Theranos’ Palo Alto headquarters on 14 October. Cheri DeVos had her blood drawn and tested using the Theranos lab. The family subsequently doubled their investment.

The binders were thick, the press articles at that stage were effusive, and both Safeway and Walgreens were going to roll it out in their stores. All the risk was on those companies for the execution, according to Petersen’s notes. 

So what we see is a classic ‘fake till you make it’ strategy, designed to play on two major retailers looking to buck up their pharmacy areas and select private investors with major funds. The articles in the WSJ and Fortune were fulsome to the point of parody. Holmes made an impact on supposedly cynical writers and Jim Cramer of CNBC’s ‘Mad Money’, who was highly influential on markets and investors at that time. It was to Cramer that Holmes made the famous statement, “This is what happens when you work to change things, and first they think you’re crazy, then they fight you, and then all of a sudden you change the world.” Whether she was scripted or really thought she was The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, it’s an audacious statement worthy of Napoleon or George S. Patton–which she had to walk back to Mr. Cramer and others in the press by early 2016 when the John Carreyrou/WSJ reporting made its own impact. The family offices questioned Holmes, of course, based on the email trail–and Theranos consistently downplayed the news to them as well as denying anything was wrong to the press.

What this Editor would like to know is once the signals went sideways, did any of these private offices’ investment managers get into Theranos to do some overdue due diligence and turn over some rocks, knowing that snakes might well fly out–or just let it ride?  CNBC, KTVU Fox 2 tweetstream 

What is somewhat risky may be the jury. The possibility of a mistrial has increased with halfway to go.  There have been three jurors removed, with their seats filled from the five alternates selected. Three more losses would lead to fewer than 12 jurors. Now the prosecution and defense could agree to go on–not a likely scenario. Judge Davila has increased the jury day by an hour daily to speed the trial up, but reports indicate the usual work and family problems. One juror was recently dismissed for playing a sudoku puzzle in the jury box due to “fidgetiness”. Choosing a jury was difficult in this tech area as few with the background and intelligence to understand financial fraud would be willing, for work and personal safety reasons, to appear on the jury. The defense is looking to unseal the juror questionnaires for their own strategic reasons. But CNN makes a mountain out of a speed bump, since Judge Davila is unlikely to pave any roads towards a mistrial.

Unfortunately, the Mercury News, Bloomberg, and WSJ, which would be primary sources, are paywalled.

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 4 (see new comment from Malcolm Fisk), Chapter 3Chapter 2Chapter 1

To be continued….

Theranos, The Trial of Elizabeth Holmes, ch. 4: we deceive those who want to believe

The Theranos Cave apparently has no bottom. Reportedly at the halfway mark, Tuesday’s trial focused on the testimony of former Theranos product manager Daniel Edlin. Recommended by his college friend Christian Holmes in 2011, he soon stepped into frontline work, assembling presentations sent to investors such as Rupert Murdoch, conducting VIP tours with demonstrations of the Edison labs, coordinating with the press, and with Elizabeth Holmes, plumping for Department of Defense and pharmaceutical company business. 

According to Mr. Edlin’s testimony, Theranos executives and staff staged demos and blood tests for investors and VIPs. Sometimes the blood tests worked fine, sometimes they didn’t (as in Rupert Murdoch’s case). Investors and reporters often were more interested in seeing Edison and MiniLab machines “work” without seeing any test results. All routine for an early-stage technology company. What was not routine was that other test results others were “corrected” (for Walgreens executives), reference ranges changed, or tests removed on the direction of Dr. Daniel Young, a Theranos VP.  The MiniLab never was used for patient blood testing as it had trouble performing general chemistry or ELISA tests adequately.

Rupert Murdoch’s (listed as a witness) investor presentation binder was entered into evidence. According to CNBC, one section of the binder read: “Theranos offers tests with the highest level of accuracy.” Another section said the blood-testing technology “generates significantly higher integrity data than currently possible.” Mr. Edlin testified that Ms. Holmes vetted every investor deck and binder, including the ones shown to DOD. The website, overseen by Ms. Holmes, made statements such as “At Theranos we can perform all lab tests on a sample 1/1000 the size of a typical blood test.” However, even Theranos’ general counsel advised against using these superiority claims:

  • “Please remove reference to “all” tests and replace with statements such as “multiple” or “several.” It is highly unlikely that the laboratory can perform every conceivable test, both from a logistical standpoint and because the CLIA certification designates specific specialties of test the lab performs.
  • For a similar reason, replace “full range” with “broad range.”
  • Replace “highest quality” with “high quality”
  • What substantiation do you have for “have results to you and your doctor faster than previously possible?”
  • Remove “unrivaled accuracy.”

To be fair, some of this language did change over time. The defense, for instance, had a try at shifting blame to one of Theranos’ marketing agencies.

But overstatements were a way of ‘fake it till you make it’ life at Theranos. The infamous Fortune article (later retracted by the author), the glowing 8 September 2013 Wall Street Journal article by Joseph Rago made at the time of the Walgreens pilot were felt to be overstatements by Theranos insiders, but never corrected. Walgreens and Safeway executives previously testified that they were told that Theranos devices were in use in Army medical evacuation units. But the truth was, according to Mr. Edlin who managed the DOD relationship, that AFRICOM (US Army African Command) deployed the Edison device in Cameroon, Uganda, and South Sudan to run as an experiment to test the viability of the machine. It was never deployed in the Middle East (CENTCOM). The Edison 4.0 was deemed too heavy and put off until lighter-weight units were developed. Nonetheless, Theranos received a 12-month service contract. 

The prosecution strategy here is to show that Ms. Holmes was hands-on when it came to marketing and investor communications, approved the overstated claims, and was not “controlled” by Sunny Balwani as the defense maintains. If anything, he deferred to her. 

CNN Business, KTVU Fox 2 running commentary, Daily Mail, California News Times  Unfortunately, the Mercury News, Bloomberg, and WSJ are paywalled.

TTA’s earlier coverage: Chapter 3, Chapter 2, Chapter 1

To be continued….