The former COO of the disgraced blood test startup Theranos, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, was sentenced to 155 months, or about 13 years, in prison and three years of probation. After a three-month trial, Balwani was found guilty of all 12 criminal charges ranging from defrauding patients and investors to conspiracy to commit fraud. Elizabeth Holmes, CEO of Theranos, was convicted of four of these charges and was sentenced last month to 11.25 years in prison.
Despite the disparate results of the two separate juries in two individual trials, Judge Ed Davila calculated that Holmes and Balwani’s sentence ranges were exactly the same: 135 to 168 months, or 11.25 to 14 years. In both cases, District Attorney Jeff Schenk countered by asking 15 years.
Balwani’s lawyers tried to argue that he should receive a more lenient sentence than Holmes since he was not a CEO.
‘He’s not Mrs. Holmes. He did not strive for fame and fortune, said Balwani’s lawyer Jeffrey Coopersmith.
Even Judge Davila noted that the court saw a different side to Balwani when they were told about his charitable giving, some of which took place after Theranos. Nevertheless, Balwani still received a heavy sentence of 13 years.
Holmes and Balwani were set to be tried together for fraud, but the former CEO filed a separate lawsuit, stating that Balwani, who is 20 years her senior, had emotionally and sexually abused her during their long romantic relationship. Although the court did not rule on those allegations, the judge granted the request.
During the trial, Balwani’s lawyers attempted to argue that while he was an investor and executive at Theranos, he was not involved in key decision-making. However, the defense failed to plead his innocence. In one piece of evidence, the jury was presented with a text from Balwani to Holmes that read, “I am responsible for everything at Theranos.”
Balwani’s trial contained the same evidence that indicted Holmes. The prosecution focused on a key piece of evidence related to Theranos’ relationship with Walgreens. The biotech startup’s flawed technology made its way into 41 Walgreens stores, but unbeknownst to the pharmacy giant, most of the testing was done on third-party equipment. Theranos’ own machines could not provide accurate test results, so many patients had their blood drawn intravenously instead of finger prick. So, Walgreens basically spent $140 million in its partnership with Theranos, only for the startup to use the same old technology that was already in use.
Despite claims to the contrary, a Walgreens executive testified that he worked closely with Balwani on the deal. The prosecution also showed evidence of a text from Balwani to Holmes stating that he deliberately failed to tell Walgreens that they were using various machines.
For patients unfortunate enough to have their blood tested with Theranos’ technology, some received wildly inaccurate results that significantly disrupted their lives. In one case, it was a mother with a history of miscarriages incorrectly informed that she would have another failed pregnancy. Another patient, Erin Tompkins, used Theranos because of its low cost marked as HIV positive, and then lived in limbo for three months until she could afford a second blood test. It turned out she didn’t actually have HIV. Meanwhile, a patient named Mehrl Ellsworth was falsely diagnosed with cancer.
Unlike the jury at Holmes’s trial, the jury at Balwani’s trial held him accountable for defrauding patients, not just investors.
Prior to the sentencing hearing of the former COO, Balwani’s lawyers filed 40 objections according to the probation office’s investigative report, according to tweets from Law 360 reporter Dorothy Atkins, who was present at the hearing. Judge Davila, who also presided over the Holmes trial, said only four of those objections were substantive.
“Most of the time, sentencing hearings are morbid, regardless of the crime — like watching a car crash where you see families and lives being destroyed in real time,” Atkins tweeted from the courtroom. “This one feels more like an accounting class.”
It would certainly not be unprecedented if Balwani decides to appeal against this ruling. Following the conviction of Holmes herself, the former Theranos CEO told a California federal judge that she would appeal her conviction. She then asked to remain out of custody while her appeal is pending, also citing that she is currently pregnant with her second child. As it stands, Holmes’ date of submission is April 27, while Balwani will report to prison on March 15.