The former chief operating officer of disgraced biotech startup Theranos has been sentenced to 12 years and 10 months in prison.
Judge Edward Davila of the Northern District of California sentenced Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani to 155 months in prison and three years of probation. Balwani, 57, must surrender on March 15, Davila ruled.
Balwani was chief operating officer of Theranos for six years, during which she also maintained a romantic relationship with Holmes. it wasof 12 counts of fraud and conspiracy for his role in the company, which fraudulently claimed it had developed a medical device that could scan for hundreds of diseases with just a few drops of blood.
Balwani convicted in 12 serious cases
Prosecutors had asked Balwani to serve 15 years in prison. Balwani’s defense team had asked only for probation, arguing that he had invested his money in Theranos and lost it all.
Balwani did not speak during the sentencing hearing in San Jose, which lasted four hours. His lawyer told reporters he intended to appeal the sentence.
The sentencing comes less than three weeks after company founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes received morefor his role in the plan. The scam revolves around the company’s false claims that it has developed a medical device that can scan for hundreds of diseases and other potential problems with just a few drops of blood from a finger prick.
On the stand, Holmes described her relationship with Balwani as controlling, and said that Balwani manipulated her through years of emotional and sexual abuse. Balwani’s lawyer has denied the allegations.
While Balwani was convicted of all 12 felony counts, Holmes was convicted of just four. The jury acquitted him of multiple charges of fraud and conspiracy against people who paid for Theranos blood tests that produced misleading results. The jury in Holmes’s trial was also deadlocked on three charges.
Very few people attended Balwani’s trial, and no one was in line an hour before the courthouse opened for his sentencing on Wednesday. It is a sharp contrast to the queue that used to form five hours before the doors opened for Holmes’ 18 November sentencing.
portrait of hard working immigrant
In court documents, Balwani’s lawyers portrayed him as a hardworking immigrant who moved to the US from India during the 1980s to become the first member of his family to attend college. He graduated from the University of Texas in 1990 with a degree in Information Systems.
He later moved to Silicon Valley, where he first worked as a computer programmer for Microsoft before founding an online startup, which he sold for millions of dollars during the dot-com boom of the 1990s.
Balwani and Holmes met around the same time he dropped out of Stanford University in 2003 to start Theranos. He became infatuated with her and her quest to revolutionize health care.
Balwani’s lawyers said he ultimately invested about $5 million in Theranos, which ultimately became worth about $500 million on paper – a fraction of Holmes’ one-time fortune of $4.5 billion.
That funding evaporated in 2015 after Theranos disclosed that its blood-testing technology never worked as Holmes claimed. Before the collapse of Theranos, Holmes teamed with Balwani to raise nearly $1 billion from deep-pocketed investors, including software mogul Larry Ellison and media magnate Rupert Murdoch.
“Not Like Elizabeth”
“Mr. Balwani bears no resemblance to Elizabeth Holmes,” his lawyers wrote in a memo to the judge. “He actually invested millions of dollars of his own money; he never sought fame or recognition, and he has a long history of quietly giving to the less fortunate.” Balwani’s lawyers also said that Holmes was “dramatically more culpable” for the Theranos fraud.
Echoing similar claims made by Holmes’ attorneys prior to sentencing, Balwani’s attorneys also argued that he has been sufficiently penalized by the intense media coverage of Theranos, which has been the subject of a book, documentary, and award-winning TV series. has been the subject of the series.
His lawyers wrote, “Balwani has lost his career, his reputation and his ability to work meaningfully again.”
Federal prosecutors portrayed Balwani as a ruthless, power-hungry accomplice in crimes who defrauded investors and put people at risk with erroneous results. Blood tests were to be available in partnership with Walgreens, which Balwani helped engineer.
“Balwani presented a fake story about Theranos’ technology and financial stability day after day meeting,” prosecutors wrote in their memorandum to the judge. “Balwani maintained this facade of accomplishment after a calculated decision that honesty would destroy Theranos.”