“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).