SAN JOSE, California – Although he was not in court, Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes called on the first day of a trial to determine if her boyfriend and former business partner, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, was also an accomplice.
In an inaugural statement Tuesday, a federal prosecutor described Balwani as a collaborator who helped Holmes close a huge scandal involving blood-testing technology in Theranos.
Balwani’s trial began 2 1/2 months after the jury acquitted him of four other charges of investor fraud, in addition to acquitting him on four other charges of cheating patients about the effectiveness of Theranos’ blood tests. The latest trial was supposed to begin last week, but has been postponed because someone in the courtroom came in contact with COVID-19.
Although a separate trial is being held on a criminal charge similar to Balwani’s, it quickly became clear that Holmes was possibly hiding behind a ghost.
Holmes’s name appears repeatedly in federal prosecutor Robert Leach’s nearly 50-minute opening statement before the jury, as was his picture on a screen set up around the courtroom, including a display in front of Balwani.
“You’ll see how they were partners in everything, including their crime,” Leach said of the romantic and business alliance between Holmes, now 38, and Balwani, 57.
Balwani’s lawyer, Stephen Cajares, made multiple references to Holmes during his 90-minute presentation, but in many ways Balwani was already meant to be cast as a successful entrepreneur who was in a much better position than joining the company while delivering a much-needed infusion. Cash
Although Balwani was romantically involved with Holmes when he founded Theranos after dropping out of Stanford University in 2003, Cajares insisted that Balwani did not start working for the company until 2009. At the time, Cajares said Balwani had deposited 10 million. His own money to guarantee a loan for Theranos before investing another $ 5 million to buy a stake in the company. That partnership eventually turned out to be worth 500 500 million on paper.
“Sunny Theranos believed in its technology and its purpose,” said Cajares, a former federal prosecutor.
Before the fall of Theranos, Holmes was hailed as a dreamer with a personal fortune of $ 4.5 billion – nine times more than Balwani’s share in the company.
When Cajars told the jury that Balwani had gotten a job in Theranos because of his past success, Leach wanted to portray him as someone who was incompetent to oversee a company trying to make a medical device.
“All he had was a connection to Elizabeth Holmes,” Leach said of Balwani.
The close relationship between Holmes and Balwani also came up frequently during Holmes’ trial, which included text messages between the two ex-boyfriends. Leach indicated that some of the same texts would be submitted as evidence during Balwani’s trial. He telegraphed that many of the same witnesses called to testify against Holmes are likely to be resurrected in the process.
Holmes’s trial also included a dramatic afternoon when he tearfully accused Balwani of being an influential figure in his life at times who had subjected him to emotional and sexual abuse. Another attorney from Balwani, Holmes, vehemently denied the allegations during the trial, and Cajars urged jury members in the current trial to dismiss anything they may remember reading or hearing about them.
“The headlines and sensational stories about Elizabeth Holmes have no place in this trial,” Cazares said.
Holmes faces up to 20 years in prison, but is out on 500,000 bail while awaiting sentencing in September. This raises the speculation that Holmes may be willing to testify against Balwani in exchange for a humble recommendation, although this is considered a remote possibility.
Without Holmes’ presence, Balwani’s trial is unlikely to draw much attention to his trial, which lasted from last September until his conviction in January. It was clear early Tuesday that just a few people had lined up to enter the courthouse about an hour before it opened. This was in stark contrast to Holmes’ trial, which took place in San Jose, California, more than five hours before the courthouse opened.
Balwani’s trial is expected to last three months.