According to court documents, Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder and former CEO of Theranos, is likely to defend herself by claiming she was the victim of a decade-long abusive relationship with her ex-boyfriend, who is also a former Theranos executive.
According to newly unsealed documents, Holmes intends to have an expert testify about the psychological, emotional, and sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, the company’s COO, including the abusive tactics he allegedly used to “exercise control” and the psychological impact. According to a court filing, Balwani “adamantly denies” the allegations.
According to a filing from Holmes’ attorney, Holmes is also “likely to testify herself to the reasons why she believed, relied on, and deferred to Mr. Balwani.”
Balwani’s lawyers acknowledge Holmes’ plans to introduce evidence that Balwani verbally disparaged her, controlled what she ate, how she dressed, and who she interacted with, “essentially dominating her and erasing her capacity to make decisions,” according to a separate filing. The allegations are described as “deeply offensive to Mr. Balwani” and “devastating personally to him” in the filing.
As a result of these tensions, the highly anticipated Holmes and Balwani trials were split up. Both were charged with multiple federal fraud and conspiracy charges over allegations that they knowingly misrepresented the capabilities of Theranos’ blood testing technology more than three years ago.
Requests for comment from Holmes and Balwani’s attorneys were not immediately returned Saturday.
From 2010 to 2015, the two are accused of defrauding investors in a multi-million dollar scheme, as well as doctors and patients who paid for the company’s blood testing services from 2013 to 2016. They are each charged with two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and ten counts of federal wire fraud.
For each count of wire fraud and conspiracy, Holmes and Balwani could face up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and restitution if they plead not guilty.
“A joint trial presents the serious risk that Ms. Holmes will revert to a pattern of compliance with Mr. Balwani,” Holmes’ attorney wrote in court papers, adding that Balwani’s “presence and/or actions would trigger in Ms. Holmes significant psychological consequences” that could affect her during the trial.
Meanwhile, Balwani’s lawyers argued that the only way to ensure a fair trial for their client was to grant his motion to sever, which would allow for two separate jury trials.
Judge Edward Davila ordered the court documents to be unsealed on Thursday after Dow Jones, the publisher of The Wall Street Journal, filed a motion to have the filings made public. John Cline, Holmes’ attorney, expressed a desire to keep the documents sealed until after the jury was chosen and sworn in, ensuring that the jurors would “never be exposed” to the information before the trial. Assistant US Attorney Kelly Volkar argued that unsealing the case ahead of time would allow the prosecution to weed out any potential juror bias. Following multiple delays caused by the pandemic and the birth of her first child, formal jury selection for Holmes’ trial is set to begin next week in San Jose.
Dr. Mindy Mechanic, a clinical psychologist whose work focuses on the psychosocial consequences of violence, trauma, and victimization, had previously informed Holmes’ defense team of their intention to use expert testimony from her.
Federal prosecutors were given the option of having Holmes examined by two experts — a psychologist and a psychiatrist — for a total of 14 hours over two days.
At the age of 19, Holmes, a Stanford University dropout, founded Theranos with the goal of revolutionizing blood testing. The company promised patients the ability to test for conditions such as cancer and diabetes with just a few drops of blood, based on her stated fear of needles. Theranos had a retail partnership with Walgreens and boasted a high-profile board of directors and investors when it was valued at $9 billion.