Theranos’ Balwani gets an unlucky 13 year sentence, restitution to come

Today, in the US District Court, Northern District of California, Ramesh ‘Sunny’ Balwani, the former president of Theranos, was sentenced to 155 months, or 12.9 years, in Federal prison. Balwani had been convicted on all 12 counts of fraud and conspiracy, including two for patient fraud, in July. The prosecution had asked for 15 years, as they had with Elizabeth Holmes, who was sentenced by Judge Edward Davila to 11.25 years on four counts. Balwani will be required to surrender on 15 March. None of the coverage indicates that he will appeal. 

The hearing today was about six hours and was far less of a media ‘event’ than Holmes’ hearing. 

Like Holmes, Balwani’s defense requested a sentence of home confinement of four to 10 months, citing that Balwani was an investor ($5 million), was not CEO but COO for six years to May 2016 before the company went out of business, wasn’t involved in key decision-making by Holmes, and gave money to charitable causes. The probation officers’ recommendation was, also like Holmes, nine years. Judge Davila again went with standard sentencing guidelines to produce a result that was far less than most observers, including your Editor, expected given the 12 counts and his direct management of the Theranos lab.

US Attorney Jeff Schenk, who spoke for the prosecution, said “Mr. Balwani knew that Theranos was not generating, and would not generate, any meaningful revenue by being honest with people. So he chose a different path.” The opposite view from his defense attorney, Jeffrey Coopersmith: “Mr. Balwani never wanted anyone to be harmed. He would never harm a fly. Instead, he wanted to give…He’s deserving of a lenient sentence. He’s not Ms. Holmes. He did not pursue fame and fortune.”

However, Balwani was key in making deals and withheld what was really happening in the lab. According to TechCrunch, “During the trial, a Walgreens executive testified that he worked closely with Balwani on the deal. The prosecution also displayed evidence of a text from Balwani to Holmes stating that he deliberately didn’t tell Walgreens that they were using different machines.” He did not testify in his own defense or speak at the hearing on his own behalf.

According to reporter Dorothy Atkins, covering for Law 360, Judge Davila “won’t give Balwani a tougher sentence for leading the conspiracy, but he found Balwani recklessly put patients at risk, since he led the lab.” By his own text to Holmes, “I am responsible for everything at Theranos.” and had, according to the judge, “significant autonomy” in the lab–where the machines did not work. In the judge’s words, as she reported, “Defendant chose to go forward with deception, I’ll call it, and continued to perpetuate the fraud….” After sentencing, his defense requested that he serve in a minimum security prison. At the end, “Balwani packed his things and whispered something to his family members. He didn’t get any hugs, and there were no visible tears in the courtroom.”

On restitution, the prosecution wants Balwani to pay $804 million to defrauded investors, which happened to be the same amount requested bu the prosecution as Holmes. Judge Davila calculated total investor loss as $120 million. A final determination will be made at a later date to be determined.

Balwani is 57, which means that if he serves the typical 85% of his Federal sentence, he will emerge from Club Fed aged 68.  Washington Examiner, NBC, NBC Bay Area, Scott Budman of NBC’s Twitter feed

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