The Theranos Story, ch. 71: Holmes appears in court, lawyers argue celebrity, lavish lifestyle, Silicon Valley ethics

After 15 months, Elizabeth Holmes puts in her Day in Court. Last Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s hearings in US District Court in San Jose were not virtual, but in court–and with Ms. Holmes present. The arguments between counsel were about what would be admissible; the relevance of her lifestyle (fine dining, houses, private jets), her wealth, spending, and celebrity to the charges of criminal fraud, first of hundreds of millions of dollars by investors plus patients and doctors with false claims that the Theranos labs actually gave accurate readings.

The defense argued that admitting information on the lifestyle and spending behavior would be inflammatory and prejudicial to the jury. The travel, the perks, the company-paid-for services were there because she was traveling on company business. Her stock was never sold and her salary at $200,000 to $390,000 (per SEC) was actually low for her peer group. To a certain degree, Judge Edward Davila agreed with the defense. Being in Silicon Valley, home of tech high flyers and Sand Road investors, Judge Davila said to the prosecution, “It seems like that’s designed to engage a class conversation amongst the jurors which I think you’d agree would be a little dangerous. What’s the value of, ‘Did she stay at a Four Seasons versus a Motel 6?” The prosecution countered that information regarding the increasing value of the stock and Holmes’ billionaire lifestyle largely funded by the company, more so than her salary, is relevant to the continuing fraud. “The perks that she is enjoying greatly reduce the pressure on her to cash in, sell stock and make more money.” And, one could say, to come clean and end the fraud around their technology.

According to the Mercury News, Judge Davila said he would rule on the dispute over lifestyle and compensation evidence later. The trial is scheduled to start 31 August. CNBC video, 5 May, 6 May  

A smash Q1 for digital health funding–but the SPAC party may be winding down fast

An Overflowing Tub of Big Funding and Even Bigger Deals. The bubble bath that was Q1 deals and funding is no surprise to our Readers. Your Editor at one point apologized for the often twice-weekly roundups. (Better the Tedium of Deals than COVID and Shutdown, though.)

Rock Health provides a bevy of totals and charts in its usual quarterly summary of US digital health deals.

  • US funding crested $6.7 bn over 147 deals during January through March, more than doubling 2020’s $3.1 bn in Q1 over 107 deals.
  • Trending was on par through February, until it spiked in March with four mega-deals (over $100 million) over two days: Clarify (analytics), Unite Us (SDOH tech), Strive Health (kidney care), and Insitro (drug discovery). These deals also exceeded 2020’s hot Q3 ($4.1 bn) and Q4 ($4.0 bn).
  • Bigger, better. Deals skewed towards the giant economy size. $100 million+ deals represented 66 percent of total Q1 funding
  • Deal sizes in Series B and C were bigger than ever, with a hefty Series B or C not uncommon any more. Series B raises were on average $49 million and C $77 million. One of March’s megadeals was a Series B–Strive Health with a $140 million Series B [TTA 18 Mar].
  • Series A deal size barely kept up with inflation, languishing in the $12 to $15 million range since 2018.
  • Hot sectors were a total turnaround from previous years. Mental health, primary care, and substance use disorders, once the ugly ducklings which would get their founders tossed out of cocktail parties, became Cinderellas Before Midnight at #1, #2, and #3 respectively. Oncology, musculoskeletal (MSK), and gastrointestinal filled out the Top 6 list.
  • M&As were also blistering: 57 acquisitions in Q1, versus Q4 2020’s 45

Given the trends and nine months to go, will it blow the doors off 2020’s total funding of $14 bn? It looks like it…but…We invite your predictions in the Comments below.

Les bon temps may rouler, but that cloud you see on the horizon may have SPAC written on it. A quick review: Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) typically are public companies that raise money through their own IPOs for the express purpose of buying other companies. Often called a ‘blank check’, they have no purpose other than buying one or two other companies–in the latter case, merging them like the announced Cloudbreak and UpHealth last November–and converting over to the company’s identity and business. The timeframe is usually two years. Essentially, the active company goes public with a minimum of the messy, long, expensive, and revelatory process of filing directly with the SEC (in the US). This quarter, Rock Health’s stat on SPACs was that they raised $83.1 bn this quarter, exceeding by $0.5 bn all SPAC activity in 2020, mainly late in the year. Their count was two SPACs closing in Q1 and 8 more announced but not yet closed (counting Cloudbreak/UpHealth as one).

As an exit door for investors, it’s worked very well–but is dependent on private equity and public investors having confidence in SPACs. One thinning of the bubble may be the scrutiny of Clover Health’s SPAC by the SEC [TTA 9 Feb] over not revealing that they were under investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ). Certainly this was a material circumstance that could dissuade investors, among other dodgy business practices later unveiled. Mr. Market tells a tale; Clover went public 8 Jan at $15.90 and closed today at $7.61. Their YahooFinance listing has a long list of law firms filing class-action lawsuits on behalf of shareholders.

Clover may be the leading edge of a SPAC bust. SPACs are losing their luster because there are too many going through, jamming bandwidth at the bank and law firm level. As time ticks by and deals are delayed, the private funders of SPACs are growing squeamish, according to this report in National Review’s Capital Note (yes, National Review has a finance newsletter). “In the past two weeks alone, four blank-check deals have been halted, with SPAC shares declining significantly from their highs early this year. The slowdown follows an influx of short-sellers into the opaque financial vehicles and a sell-off in high-profile SPACs such as Churchill Capital Corp IV.” Reasons why: lower quality of companies available to go public via SPAC–the low hanging ripe fruit has been picked–and the last mile in SPACs, which is PIPE funding (private equity-investment-in-public-equity financing) is getting skittish. The last shoe to drop? The SEC in late March announced an investigation into SPACs, making inquiries into several banks seeking information on their SPAC dealings, which is alluded to near the end of the Rock Health report. CNBC  (Read further down into the NR article for a Harvard Business Review dissection of the boom-bust dynamics of ‘controversial practices’ like reverse mergers as a forecast of what may happen to SPACs. Increased popularity led to increased negativity in reverse mergers.)

And speaking of SPACs...Health tech/digital health eyes are upon what Glen Tullman and the ‘late of Livongo’ team will be doing with their SPAC, Health Assurance Acquisition Corp., which is backed by Hemant Taneja’s General Catalyst, also a former Livongo funder. Brian Dolan, who is now publishing Exits and Outcomes. His opinion is their buy will be Color, formerly Color Genomics: opinion piece is here. Messrs Tullman and Taneja are also leading Transcarent, a company that brings together employers, employees, and providers in a seamless, app-driven integrated care model. Forbes

The cool-off in SPACs may burst a few bubbles in the bath–and that may be all to the good in the long term.

‘Neoinsurer’ Oscar Health goes for $100 million IPO; Clover Health’s big SPAC under SEC microscope

Oscar Health, one of a number of US ‘insurtech’ or ‘neoinsurance’ private health insurance companies that have nipped at the heels of the Big 9, announced late Friday an IPO on the NYSE. The number of shares and their value is not on the SEC S-1 filing but the estimate of the raise is $100 million. Timing is not disclosed but rumored to be by March or early Q2. The offering is underwritten by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Allen and Company.

Oscar was one of the first to offer members apps, telehealth, and fitness trackers–revolutionary back in 2012 but routine now. Expanding beyond its original base of individual health insurance coverage, it now offers Medicare Advantage and small group coverage in 18 states to over 500,000 members. Oscar remains a virtual-first platform with the majority of its members in Florida, Texas, and California. Oscar makes much of member engagement and its partnerships; 47 percent of its overall subscribing membership and 44 percent of its 55-and-up subscribers are monthly active users. Oscar has also partnered with Cleveland Clinic and other larger insurers like Cigna. 

Financing for Oscar to date is over $1.5 bn. It has tidily grown in geographic coverage, members, and revenue–$1.67 billion in 2020 and $1.04 billion in 2019–no simple feat against the Big 9. Oscar’s problem is profitability–operating losses grew proportionately, $402.3 million (+56% from $259.4 million). Operating expenses also grew by 16 percent. TechCrunch gives additional crunch in the financial analysis (article in part, full paid access). Mobihealthnews

Oscar is one of a few health-tech heavy survivors of insurance companies that bloomed like flowers–and wilted–during and post-Obamacare. Clover Health, which thrived in a slice of the Medicare Advantage market, went the SPAC (blank check) route 8 January with Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings. Now with an enterprise value of approximately $3.7 billion, the SPAC indeed put Clover in the clover [TTA 14 Jan].

But perhaps short-lived. Clover’s SPAC is now being scrutinized by the SEC based on last week’s explosive charges by short-seller maven Hindenburg Research (!). Hindenburg’s research report alleges that Clover “lured retail investors into a broken business” by not disclosing a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation that started (at least) last fall. Clover countered that the investigation is “routine” since Clover is in the Medicare business. Thus, it was not disclosed by Clover to investors as ‘non-material’. DOJ investigations are far more serious than CMS fines for compliance violations, which are not uncommon. Back in 2016, Clover was fined just over $106,000 by CMS on misleading marketing practices.

In short, DOJ investigations are never routine. They usually are the start point for enhanced claims scrutiny and a concatenation of charges, as WellCare, then a scrappy upstart insurer, found out over six agonizing years, 2006-2012, that were serious enough to send much of top management to Club Fed.  The Hindenburg paper (linked above) details other business practices that if true, are dodgy at best and fuel for further investigations.

The SEC notice of investigation was disclosed by Clover last Friday evening, usually a good time to disclose Bad News. This SPAC may have feet of clay.  PYMNTS.com, CNBC

News roundup, lockdown edition: Oscar Health’s $140M raise, IPO filing; Centene’s Diameter Health investment; Abbott’s telehealth-guided COVID antigen test

Before we break for the Christmas and New Year’s festive season, though most of us are partially or fully locked down for travel and get-togethers, binge-watching the telly for comfort, a few items of interest–we’ll keep it short:

An Oscar Health Double Header. Not only did this relatively new payer in the individual, small group, and Medicare Advantage markets gain a $140 million funding round last week, adding to a $225 million raise in June (Fierce Healthcare), but they quietly filed their S-1 registration with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to go public on Monday (Healthcare Dive, Oscar release). Since their founding in 2012, the company has raised $1.6 bn in 10 rounds. The fresh funding will go towards 19 new markets and four new states in 2021, adding to their current 18 states and 211 counties. 

Speaking of payers getting into other lines of business, Centene Corporation, which has Medicare plans with different brands in all 50 states, seems to be moving in a different direction with some recent acquisitions and investments. Centene was the lead investor in an $18 million Series B round for Diameter Health, an enterprise data interoperability developer. Optum Ventures, LRVHealth, Connecticut Innovations, and Activate Venture Partners also participated. Fierce Healthcare Centene recently finalized their acquisition of Apixio (AI-assisted clinical data mining of unstructured data) [TTA 14 Nov] and is acquiring Pantherx, a specialty pharmacy focused on orphan medications and rare diseases, to blend into their Envolve Pharmacy Solutions unit. It does appear that Centene is moving into the UnitedHealthcare/Optum model of dividing services and innovations which can be sold to third parties (Optum) from their health plan and pharmacy businesses (UHC), which may be less profitable in the next few years.

An antigen test for COVID-19 with a telehealth spin is Abbott Pharmaceuticals’ BinaxNOW 15-minute antigen test. It is the first at home, telehealth guided test to get an FDA emergency use authorization (EUA). The Ag Card Home Test requires a prescription and used telehealth to guide users through the sample self-collection process, then to help them read and understand their results. MedTech Dive  It was followed up this week by Quidel’s EUA for a dipstick-style collection with a reading in minutes, similar to that of a pregnancy test, but is only cleared for healthcare settings for now. MedTech Dive

Above: Rockefeller Center, 2011. This year’s tree was mangy and the decorations leading to the plaza scarce.

Outcome Health’s Desai reaches settlement with DOJ, SEC

Ashik Desai, the former chief growth officer of point-of-care advertising firm Outcome Health, settled the charges against him brought in Federal court by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The filing was on 4 February. Monetary relief and/or penalties against him will be disclosed at a later date.

Last month, Mr. Desai pleaded guilty to the charges and announced cooperation with the authorities on the criminal charges of securities fraud related to Outcome Health’s capital raises of about $1 bn during 2011 into 2017. Similarly, his former analysts Kathryn Choi and Oliver Han did the same at the end of January.

Remaining are the senior executives who have all entered pleas of  ‘not guilty’: founders Rishi Shah and Shradha Agarwal, both of Chicago, and Brad Purdy, their former COO and CFO, all in their 30s. All of them blame Mr. Desai, who is presently 26 and started at Outcome Health as an intern.  Pass the popcorn for a dramatic tale of complex and multi-layered fraud, likely in the spring. Becker’s Health IT and CIO Report, Chicago Tribune  Also TTA 17 Dec and 3 Dec

“There were practices going on there that were wrong”: Outcome Health’s Desai pleads guilty, cooperates with DOJ.

Perhaps the smartest move, under really, truly bad circumstances. Ashik Desai, the former executive vice president of business operations/chief growth officer of point-of-care health information/advertising company Outcome Health, ‘copped a plea’ this past Monday to felony wire fraud charges. According to the Chicago Tribune, Assistant US Attorney Matthew Madden told Judge Thomas M. Durkin of the Northern District of Illinois Federal Court in Chicago that Mr. Desai is cooperating with the investigation. “When I was at Outcome Health, there were practices going on there that were wrong,” Mr. Desai said, understatedly, during his court appearance Monday. “I participated in those practices that ended up defrauding Outcome’s customers.”

According to the article and other sources (WTTW), Mr. Desai is only 26; he started at Outcome as an intern when it was still Context Media and departed in 2017. With continued cooperation, the prosecution is recommending only 10 years in prison, half of what a conviction might bring at the statutory maximum of 20 years. He was released on bond and surrendered his passport.

The multiple and most serious charges in the indictment are for the two founders, Rishi Shah and Shradha Agarwal, both of Chicago, and Brad Purdy, their former COO and CFO, all in their early 30s. These are criminal charges of fraud relating to their capital raises of about $1 bn during 2011 into 2017, deceiving their investors, lenders, and their own auditors for profit and misrepresenting to advertisers their delivery performance.

On Monday 9 December, Mr. Purdy pleaded not guilty to six counts each of mail fraud and wire fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of making false statements to a financial institution. His counsel, not unexpectedly but amusingly for those of us who are experienced in the corporate pecking order and what exactly a CFO is responsible for, stated: “Ashik Desai and several of his underlings committed a massive fraud. The evidence will show Brad Purdy was not part of that fraud,” he said. “Evidence is going to show Ashik Desai repeatedly lied to Brad and others to conceal his fraud from people like Brad.” Mr. Purdy also was released on bond and surrendered his passport.

Two of those underlings, Kathryn Choi and Oliver Han, pleaded not guilty on Thursday 5 December to their respective charges of wire fraud. They face five years maximum if convicted. In this Editor’s opinion, they were indicted to bring forth additional information to buttress the major charges on Mr. Desai and the three top executives. As ‘small fry’ with at most a little profit sharing, they are sideshows–easy to pressure. They may truly spill the beans if they and their counsel sense that things are going badly–if they have any more beans to spill. 

Mr. Shah and Ms. Agarwal are scheduled to appear in court next Monday, 16 December. They have previously stated that they will plead not guilty (FiercePharma). Flight risk is undoubtedly a concern for the prosecution regarding Ms. Agarwal. According to this Refinery29  interview from 2017, Ms. Agarwal is an Indian citizen and, while a long-time legal resident, not a naturalized American. Mr. Shah was born in the US. This cautionary Tale of the Unicorn, told in the Chicago Way, warns us all to be careful of what we see, are asked to do, sign on to–and sign off on.

SEC, DOJ charges Outcome Health founders Shah and Agarwal, others, with $487 million fraud, 26 counts of indictment (updated)

All the points of information here. While we here in the US were enjoying our Thanksgiving feasts of turkey, steak, lobster, and lasagna, Outcome Health founders former Chief Executive Rishi Shah, former President Shradha Agarwal, and former executives Brad Purdy (COO/CFO), and Executive VP Ashik Desai, were being served a vastly different dish on 25 November. Underreported in the run-up to the holiday were two major legal actions against these individuals:

  • SEC charges of $487 million in investor fraud by “misrepresent(ing) the company’s business successes while raising hundreds of millions of dollars from unsuspecting investors”, billing clients (primarily pharmaceutical companies) for ads that never ran in medical offices, and manipulating third-party studies to make the company’s ad delivery look more effective than it actually was to create the impression of meteoric growth. The falsification trail was such that even they had trouble matching up their claims versus actual in their ‘selling of futures’.
  • 26 counts from a Department of Justice grand jury indictment on criminal charges of fraud relating to their capital raises of about $1 bn during 2011 into 2017 and their business practices. The indictment alleges deception of their investors, lenders, and their own auditors for profit and misrepresenting to advertisers their delivery of actual advertising in doctors’ offices which they may or may not have had, in extreme and additional detail to the SEC complaint. Arraignments for the defendants started on Tuesday 3 Dec.

Two young analysts, Kathryn Choi and Oliver Han, reported to Mr. Desai and are being charged with wire fraud. They are alleged to have created statements to deceive company auditors and providing advertisers with false patient engagement metrics on Outcome Health’s tablets. Both were hired in 2014 and placed on leave in late 2017. This action is highly unusual in reaching down to this level and naming two young subordinates.

One-time unicorn Outcome Health is, of course, still in business, selling advertising and educational materials at point-of-care, having settled with the SEC in October for $70 million in advertiser make-goods [TTA 31 Oct]. It also restructured/recapitalized in May by selling a majority stake to private equity firm Littlejohn & Co. In coming down to earth, the posturing of the executives should be less than two years ago, when Outcome was going to build its own Chicago office building–but this early October article from FiercePharma hardly moderates the healthcare change-agent hype for what is really POC advertising to inform and mostly distract patients who wait…and wait.

Additional information:

In this Editor’s view, once both SEC and DOJ are double-teamed on an indictment, avoiding Club Fed will be extremely difficult for the four main executives. (One assumes their US passports have been confiscated.) There is a huge amount of financial fraud leading to losses by some powerful companies. Even when losses are small, the Feds get their man most of the time. This Editor had a view of this at a distance, as the CEO of a company where she formerly worked was convicted of financial fraud in an enterprise formed after that company. He and his accomplice are serving five years in a Federal prison. Not even Elizabeth Holmes is facing the full fury of both Federal agencies, and she’s facing only nine counts in her indictment. 

The Theranos Story, ch. 61: Elizabeth Holmes as legal deadbeat

Did her lawyers expect otherwise? This weekend’s news of Elizabeth Holmes’ legal team at Cooley LLP withdrawing their representation services due to non-payment should not have caused much surprise. Cooley’s attorney team petitioned the court to withdraw from the case, stating that “Ms. Holmes has not paid Cooley for any of its work as her counsel of record in this action for more than a year.”

Cooley was representing Ms. Holmes in a class-action civil suit in Phoenix brought against her, former Theranos president Sunny Balwani, and Walgreens, charging fraud and medical battery. (When they withdraw, will she seek public representation based on poverty?)

Perhaps Ms. Holmes is the one who’s setting priorities, as the civil suit would be for monetary damages, and no money means there will be none for the plaintiffs to collect. The DOJ charges are a different story. She is on the hook for nine counts of wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy related to her actions at Theranos. Conviction on these could send her to Club Fed for 20 years plus a fine of $250,000 plus restitution for each charge. [TTA 16 June]

Last Wednesday, both Ms. Holmes and lawyers for her and Mr. Balwani were in Federal court in San Jose on the wire fraud and conspiracy charges, demanding that the government release documents from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that allegedly would clear them. After an hour, Judge Davila set 4 November as the next hearing date. 

Defending oneself does not come cheap, but after your company’s value crashes to $0 from $9bn, one might be looking for change in your Roche-Bobois couch and wondering if your little black Silicon Valley-entrepreneur formal pantsuit/white shirt ensembles will last through the trial. CNBC 2 Oct, CNBC 4 OctFox Business, Business Insider

The Theranos Story, ch. 58: with HBO and ABC, let the mythmaking and psychiatric profiling begin! (updated)

This Editor thought that her next articles about Theranos would be trial coverage. There are court dates pending for Elizabeth Holmes and Not-So-Sunny Balwani–with the DOJ for 11 counts of wire fraud [TTA 16 June] and, for Mr. Balwani, with the SEC on (civil) securities fraud [TTA 15 March]. 

Instead, Theranos hits the headlines again. On 18 March, there’s the debut of an HBO documentary on Theranos. Titled The Inventor: Out For Blood In Silicon Valley (YouTube preview), we can treat ourselves once again to the SteveJobs-esque presence of Ms. Holmes, down to the unnaturally deep voice, blondined hair, and wide blue eyes, unpacking the deception and fraud that was part of the company from early days. But that’s not all! There’s a six-part ABC Radio ‘Nightline’ docu-podcast that started on 23 Jan and airs in six parts through February, which includes audio of depositions taken of board members, whistleblower Tyler Shultz, and patients affected by bad test results. (This Editor will give a listen on this alone.) Episode 5 and links to 1-4 are here via Yahoo.

On websites, we’re regaled with rehashes. The articles range from Teasing the Doc to Where The Ex (Balwani) Is Now (they don’t know) to What Is Her Net Worth (not $4.6 bn). There’s even a flurry of sensational podcasts and videos on YouTube–just Google them. 

Fascinating Fraud. There’s fascination in The Long Con perpetrated by the principals, and less examined, our tendency to Want To Believe. Many of us like legal procedurals and the drama inherent in them (the eternal appeal of the long-running Law & Order in several countries.) Let’s face it, there’s a substantial dollop of schadenfreude mixed in.

What we are witnessing is the building of a myth, increasingly divorced from the real world where it happened, and not improbably or with superpowers. 

Where it goes a little off the cliff. There is a curious article in Forbes that is written by a contributor who writes and teaches courses on stocks and entrepreneurship. He interviewed a former neighbor of Ms. Holmes, Richard Fuisz, MD. It turns out this psychiatrist, inventor, and former CIA asset knew her in childhood. The families were friends and Dr. Fuisz helped out her father when he hit a bad patch. There’s some sketchy profiling in this article, but it does make a fair attempt to get to the heart of the forces that put the gap in Elizabeth Holmes’ ethical makeup, including the Big Steal of Ian Gibbons’ IP. His position is somewhat complicated by a patent dispute (settled) between Dr. Fuisz & Son and Theranos. He’s still hammering on at it on Twitter (@rfuisz).

What’s missing? Much credit to the estimable John Carreyrou, who broke the story in the Wall Street Journal and got his livelihood (and perhaps a few other things) threatened a few times by Tough Guy Lawyer David Boies.

(Updated) At least it is here in a Vanity Fair article on the Last Days of Theranos, where they had to move to downscale Newark (California) and Ms. Holmes’ dog pooped where he wanted to poop. Her ‘persecution’ doesn’t seem to faze her from living in SF, frequenting cafes with said dog, and her new romance with a ‘younger hospitality heir’–a far cry from her former employees who wear the months or years of their lives at Theranos like a Scarlet Letter as they look for work and loose cash in the sofa.

We’ve gotten to the point where the hard business analysis ends and the looser parts of psychologizing begins, as we attempt to understand why. Beyond a certain point, does why matter when damage to real patients has been done? Collateral damage persists in funding of startups and for entrepreneurial women in health tech.

For this Editor, she looks forward to the warmer weather, when it’s expected when the Legal Action–and reality–resumes. 

The Theranos Story, ch. 54: cue up ‘Tainted Love’ in the courtroom

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Rock-1-crop-2.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Tainted Love, Labs, and Lucre Indeed. Drop the needle on the Gloria Jones version from 1964 or the Soft Cell version from 1981.

Consider that the very fates of Ms. Elizabeth Holmes, the now not-so-Sunny Balwani, and the formerly $9 bn Unicorn Theranos may hinge on the nature of their personal relationship and its influence on the governance of the company.

There are two legal actions against the company and the two principals, one by the DOJ for criminal fraud [TTA 16 June] and by the SEC on (civil) securities fraud [TTA 15 March].  Both are out on $500,000 bail on the DOJ charges. The possibilities on the latter can be up to 20 years in Club Fed, plus $250,000 in fines and clawing back of investor funds, if any can be found.

While Ms. Holmes settled with the SEC, paying a fine and exiting the company, Mr. Balwani did not and is fighting the charges, though this declaration was made before the DOJ charges.

Bloomberg Markets brings up an interesting set of dynamics which can play well with potential jurors and make the prosecution’s case far more convincing for a Northern California jury. To wit, in 2009 when she started running out of money, Ms. Holmes turned to Mr. Balwani, her boyfriend, for a $12 million line of credit. In return, he became president and COO. The nature of their relationship was kept strictly hush-hush to the board and investors. Secrecy was ratcheted up at the company and management started to break down. And the timing: a week after Mr. Balwani left, the news of bad patient test results and problems with their lab started to break big.

Jurors, even in Silicon Valley, love drama and personal intrigue–especially the type that underscores deception and $900 million in fraud perpetrated by a Stanford dropout who clumsily attempted to channel Saint Jobs and a somewhat schlubby dude who Should Have Known Better. Far more than gullible corporate suits at Walgreens and hedge funds….add to it the personal stories of patients harmed by bad Theranos tests and you get an emotional story worthy of Law & Order.

Do expect Ms. Holmes to bring up her Saint Joan if not a female Saint Sebastian analogy. Burning at the stake versus being shot full of arrows are too memorable images which she’ll try out. Add a #MeToo spin of a young woman coerced by an older man–a tale of at least tit-for-tat to get the $12 million. 

The rompin’ soap opera is likely to start next year. Stay tuned…. 

The Theranos Story, ch. 52: How Elizabeth Holmes became ‘healthcare’s most reviled’–HISTalk’s review of ‘Bad Blood’

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/holmes-barbie-doll-1.jpg” thumb_width=”125″ /]A Must Read, even if you don’t have time for the book. During the brief Independence Day holiday, this Editor caught up with HISTalk’s review of John Carreyrou’s ‘Bad Blood’, his evisceration of the Fraud That Was Theranos and The Utter Fraud That Is Elizabeth Holmes. Even if you’ve read the book, it’s both a lively recounting of how the scam developed and the willingness–nay, eagerness!–of supposedly savvy people and companies to be duped. The reviewer also reveals that Mr. Carreyrou wasn’t the first to raise questions about Theranos after raves in the press and kudos from the prestigious likes of Eric Topol. Mr. Carreyrou’s first article was in October 2015 [TTA 16 Oct 15] whereas Kevin Loria wrote the first exposé in Business Insider on 25 April 15 which raised all the fundamental questions which Theranos spun, hyped, or otherwise ignored–and Mr. Carreyrou eventually answered. (Our blow by blow, from him and other sources, is here.)

The review also picks out from the book the scabrous bits of Ms. Holmes’ delusions; her makeover to become the blond Aryan female Steve Jobs mit Margaret Keane-ish waif eyes–something she took far too literally; the affair between her and Sunny Balwani, certainly in violation of the usual ethics–and her Hitler in the Bunker, April ’45 behavior as Theranos collapsed around her. 

The review concludes by telling the healthcare community something we need said plainly, often, and written in 50-foot letters:

Theranos is a good reminder to healthcare dabblers. Your customer is the patient, not your investors or partners. You can’t just throw product at the wall and see what sticks when your technology is used to diagnose, treat, or manage disease. Your inevitable mistakes could kill someone. Your startup hubris isn’t welcome here and it will be recalled with great glee when you slink away with tail between legs. Have your self-proclaimed innovation and disruption reviewed by someone who knows what they’re talking about before trotting out your hockey-stick growth chart. And investors, company board members, and government officials, you might be the only thing standing between a patient in need and glitzy, profitable technology that might kill them even as a high-powered founder and an army of lawyers try to make you look the other way.

In other words, what you (the innovator, the investor) is holding is not a patient’s watch, it could be his heart, lungs, or pancreas. (Musical interlude: ‘Be Careful, It’s My Heart’)

The Theranos Effect is real in terms of investment in small companies out there on the ‘bleeding edge’. The cooling is mostly salutory, and we’ve been seeing it since late last year (see here). But…will we remember after it wears off, after the fines are collected, the prison time is served?

The Theranos Story, ch. 49: CEO Holmes reportedly raising funds for a new company–and feeling like Joan of Arc

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Here’s the place where your money will go if you’re an investor. John Carreyrou has now compiled his reporting for the Wall Street Journal on Theranos into a new book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, and it is a Must Read for this Editor and anyone interested in the nexus of Tech, Healthcare, and Hype. (The link goes to AbeBooks, a worthy marketplace for independent booksellers.)

According to Mr. Carreyrou, the founder/CEO Miss Elizabeth Holmes–still leading the company despite settling with the SEC on fraud charges, surrendering her voting control, barred from serving as a public company director or officer for 10 years, and still fighting civil lawsuits–is raising fresh funds for a new venture.

Your eyes did not fool you.

Theranos was a Dogpile of Deceit. From hacking standard Siemens blood testing machines to work with tiny samples, falsifying test results, faking up the Edison test machine, to company financials, it was one lie on the other, chronicled for our Readers in nearly 50 chapters and multiple references. 

Mr. Carreyrou was asked by former Timesman and Vanity Fair reporter Nick Bilton whether, in this unmistakable pattern, Ms. Holmes was a sociopath. Mr. Carreyrou wisely refrained from diagnosis based on a used DSM-V, being a reporter and not her psychiatrist. From Mr. Bilton’s interview podcasted on ‘Inside the Hive’:

“At the end of my book, I say that a sociopath is described as someone with no conscience. I think she absolutely has sociopathic tendencies. One of those tendencies is pathological lying. I believe this is a woman who started telling small lies soon after she dropped out of Stanford, when she founded her company, and the lies became bigger and bigger,” Carreyrou said. “I think she’s someone that got used to telling lies so often, and the lies got so much bigger, that eventually the line between the lies and reality blurred for her.”

Mr. Carreyrou, and by inference anyone who doubted her, like her CFO, and especially those who went public with criticism–well, we are the Bad Guys:

“She has shown zero sign of feeling bad, or expressing sorrow, or admitting wrongdoing, or saying sorry to the patients whose lives she endangered,” he said. He explained that in her mind, according to numerous former Theranos employees he has spoken to, Holmes believes that her entourage of employees led her astray and that the bad guy is actually John Carreyrou. “One person in particular, who left the company recently, says that she has a deeply engrained sense of martyrdom. She sees herself as sort of a Joan of Arc who is being persecuted,” he said.

Mr. Carreyrou was set upon by this ‘martyr’s’ legal pitbulls, one David Boies, until he wisely exited stage left with a bushelful of worthless stock [TTA 21 Nov 16].

(And what is it about Stanford University that fosters people like Ron Gutman, recently ousted from HealthTap over employee abuse and intimidation charges in what may be a Silicon Valley First? [TTA 3 May] Here we have someone who plays with people’s lives and health in vital blood testing. Aren’t some ethics courses long overdue?) 

Mr. Bilton makes the extremely fine point that Silicon Valley will continue to be magnetically attracted to founders equipped with a ‘reality-distortion field’ (as he termed Steve Jobs). SV will relegate Theranos to a biotech outlier. Yet as long as Silicon Valley MoneyMen like Tim Draper will back the likes of Elizabeth Holmes as long as they have a good line of (stuff), despite being embarrassingly proven not just (and only) wrong, but now perpetrating fraud, the Jobsian Myth and black turtlenecks will rise again like Dracula. (Another analogy comes to mind, but precocious children might be reading this.)

We haven’t heard the last of her.

An excellent interview by Tom Dotan of Mr. Carreyrou is podcasted on The Information’s 411 in “You’re So Vein”, which gets the award for Title of the Week (trial signup required, or listen on SoundCloud). Starting at 15:00, interesting comments on the why of Sunny Balwani and Ms. Holmes’ series of ‘marks’ including George Shultz. Also Gizmodo and Politico’s Morning eHealth newsletter.

The Theranos Story, ch. 48: down to 24 employees in a last ditch before bankruptcy

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Yak_52__G-CBSS_FLAT_SPIN.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]The ground is next. Theranos is down to its last two dozen employees or less, in a bid to buy a few more months of time before bankruptcy, according to a breaking report in the Wall Street Journal.

The announcement was made by Elizabeth Holmes Tuesday to approximately 125 remaining employees at its downscale Newark, California headquarters. (This Editor wonders if she wore a black turtleneck.) Interestingly, Ms. Holmes remains CEO after settling civil charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) while a criminal investigation continues out of the US Attorney’s office in San Francisco. 

The WSJ article from the estimable John Carreyrou (who deserves an old-school Pulitzer Prize for his investigative reporting) recaps Theranos’ fall for those who need it. But…there’s more. Theranos received only $65 million of $100 million promised in their last (ditch) funding from Fortress Investment Group late last year, revealed by Ms. Holmes in an investor email this past Tuesday. The remainder is contingent on Theranos achieving an FDA Zika blood test approval using their miniLab. She stated that this test is still having problems and appealed to investors for yet more funding. The layoffs were designed to keep their cash reserve over $3 million until the end of July, below which Fortress is entitled to seize Theranos’ assets and liquidate them. This, as we have previously noted, is Fortress’ specialty–as now fan dancing is Ms. Holmes’.

According to Mr. Carreyrou’s sources, Ms. Holmes is still living large in basic black. “Until Tuesday, Ms. Holmes still had two personal assistants and two security guards who drove her around in a black Cadillac Escalade SUV, according to the people familiar with the matter.” This Editor wonders what happened after Tuesday. Public transit? A used car for a few thousand?

Theranos and the $900 million in lost investment may have also put a wet blanket on 2017 health tech funding, based on what we’ve learned in Rock Health’s report [TTA 5 Apr]. Other companies with real advances and promise may be paying the price for Theranos’ hype and fakery.

Our 47 past chapters and other Theranos mentions are for your perusal in our pages here

The Theranos Story, ch. 47: the post-mortem, blaming–and ghost chasing–begin

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Yak_52__G-CBSS_FLAT_SPIN.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Now that Elizabeth Holmes is the former CEO of Theranos, many of the publications who huzzahed their ‘revolutionary’ blood testing system three short years ago are publishing their post-mortem analyses, often of how the wool was pulled over their eyes.

Jenny Gold from Kaiser Health News and NPR has a short ‘alarming’ tale of her press visit in November 2014 to a Theranos testing site at a Palo Alto Walgreens for an NPR feature. At Walgreens, she spoke with patients on the record and was invited to witness their blood draw–not the finger prick Theranos (and Walgreens) promoted, but a standard volume blood draw. After multiple and telling upset reactions from her company press handlers, including demanding Ms. Gold erase her audio recording (!) and accusing her of harassment, alarms went off at the Walgreens store for a non-existent fire. She was baited with an interview with Ms. Holmes–which never happened–and wound up with a corporate attorney instead who made unsupported statements. Ms. Gold canceled her story, which if she tracked the bad smell would have been likely the first press shot across the bow. What this post-mortem tells us is the extent of the coverup and the sheer (and unethical) fawning flackery that appeared in places like the New Yorker, Forbes, Inc., and Fortune.  NPR

The FT further digs into our gullibility, our wanting to believe that someone in a black turtleneck could put the Big Labs out of business,  how we in the press hungered for a new and female Steve Jobs to shake up the status quo. Andrew Hill: “Trouble often hits, though, when leaders stick to their story after it has diverged from reality, swerving into embellishment, mythmaking and, in Ms Holmes’s case, apparently fraud.”

But we were no smarter than those who gave Ms. Holmes and Mr. Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani $700 million in Mad Money. (more…)

The Theranos Story, ch. 46: “F for Fake.” SEC’s fraud charges force Elizabeth Holmes out (finally).

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Our New Year’s 2018 prediction (after December’s $100 million loan from Fortress Investment Group): “Ms. Holmes will be removed and replaced, then the company will be reorganized and/or renamed.”

Fortress did not have to wait long or get their hands dirty. Today, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged both founder and now former CEO Elizabeth Holmes and past CEO/president Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani with securities fraud. While Mr. Balwani will fight the charges, Ms. Holmes escaped trading her black turtleneck for an orange jumpsuit by agreeing to pay a penalty of $500,000 to the SEC, give back 18.9 million shares to the company, give up her uniquely Silicon Valley perk of super-voting equity rights, and is now barred from serving as a public company director or officer for 10 years. From the Theranos release: “As part of the settlement, neither the Company nor Ms. Holmes admitted or denied any wrongdoing.”

This penalty may seem puny in the light of other securities fraud cases, but it appears that Ms. Holmes took little salary out of the company, with most of her long-gone billions in presently worthless remaining stock. 

The exact meaning of fraud, as determined by the SEC in cases like these, is not casual. We can say that we never believed the Edison or miniLabs would work despite the press hype. We can observe that patients and doctors were misled in test results, resulting in major human cost (our Ch. 22).  The fraud here is directly tied to representations made to investors that enabled Theranos’ massive funding, in multiple rounds, of over $700 million between 2013 to 2015. These misleading representations included demonstrations, reports on the functioning of its analyzers, inflating its relationships such as with the DOD, and its regulatory status with the FDA.

It also does not matter that all the funds were privately raised. The SEC in its statement firmly stated that it will treat private equity as it does public when it comes to investments (pay attention, health tech companies): (more…)

The Theranos Story, ch. 44: Walgreens settles lawsuit, cash box empties further

[grow_thumb image=”https://telecareaware.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/jacobs-well-texas-woe1.jpg” thumb_width=”150″ /]Walgreens realizes Theranos’ funds are not bottomless. Confirming the June Wall Street Journal report [TTA 26 June] that Theranos had advised its investors of a negotiated settlement with Walgreens Boots Alliance, Tuesday’s announcement offered few specifics. According to the Theranos release, the settlement resolves all claims by Walgreens and dismisses the lawsuit, with no finding or implication of liability. Terms were not formally disclosed, but sources told the WSJ (FoxBusiness) that the settlement was over $25 million. In June, it was estimated to be less than $30 million, so the over/under wasn’t very wide. Payment timing was not disclosed.

As we noted in June, Walgreens had invested an estimated $140 million between direct funding (a $40 million loan convertible into equity), and an “innovation fund’ designed to fund the store location rollout. The lawsuit filed last November was intended to recoup that amount. The thorn that Walgreens and its attorneys grasped was that even with insurance, there was not $140 million left in Theranos and nothing of equivalent non-cash interest. As a public company, certainly the realization that putting $25 million on the books this year was better than nothing. It is also likely that $110+ million has already been written off.

Not much left in Theranos’ till, other than some dollar bills and coins. In June, Theranos disclosed that their cash on hand was $54 million with a monthly burn of $10 million, leaving as of today $44 million. Even if the Walgreens settlement is covered 100 percent by insurance, at best Theranos has about four months of life–if nothing extraordinary happens. There are also ongoing SEC and DOJ investigations, plus the Colman/Taubman-Dye suit in California, which may result in more fines and settlements.

While Theranos makes much of its new management structure and commercializing new technologies (of which there is no word), there are no signs that beyond recapitalization earlier this year that there is fresh investment. Reports indicate they are trying, at long last, to exit real estate they no longer need–subleasing their expansive (and expensive) Palo Alto headquarters and relocating to their former lab in an industrial park in less tony Newark, California. As this Editor concluded in June, it is increasingly difficult to see a future for Theranos without Chapters 11 or 7 in it. It is rapidly arriving at a familiar place for startups, but not former Unicorns: Flat Brokedom.

Meanwhile, Walgreens Boots Alliance, barely dented in the exchequer, has closed on a $1.4 bn joint investment with KKR for institutional pharmacy company PharMerica. Drug Store News