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.
To be continued….