For months, Ramesh Balwani’s lawyers have been trying to separate him from Elizabeth Holmes, his ex-girlfriend and business partner in the failed blood test company Theranos.
Ms. Holmes was found guilty of defrauding start-up investors in January. Mr. Balwani is seeking a different outcome in his own fraud case.
But on Tuesday, as a closing argument to Mr. Balwani’s jury, prosecutors linked him directly to Holmes and the years-long scam on Theranos. Jeffrey Schenk, an assistant American lawyer and a lead actor in the case, showed a text message that Balwani had sent Holmes in 201[ads1]5, and which had been used as evidence in the trial.
“I am responsible for everything at Theranos,” wrote Mr. Balwani. “Everyone has been my decisions too.”
The text was an admission of guilt, Schenk said, adding: “He acknowledges his role in the scam.”
The presentation limited more than three months’ testimony in Balwani’s trial, which largely reflected Ms. Holmes last autumn. She and Mr. Balwani, 57, were charged in 2018 with exaggerating the capabilities of Theranos’ blood testing machines and business services, when the products actually did not work and the business struggled. The couple did not plead guilty. Ms. Holmes was convicted on four of 11 charges.
The trial of Mr. Balwani, known as Sunny, lacked the fanfare of Ms. Holmes’ case. Nevertheless, it acts as a code for a declining era of start-up growth that was often dependent on hype and hyperbole. Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani are among the few technical leaders who have ever been charged with fraud charges.
Just as Holmes tried to blame the deceptions of Theranos on others, Mr. Balwani has pointed his finger back at her. Throughout the trial, his lawyers argued that many of Theranos’ blood tests had worked. They said that Ms. Holmes, not Mr. Balwani, had controlled Theranos. And on Tuesday, they painted Mr. Balwani as a true believer in Theranos’ vision and technology.
Mr. Balwani “put his heart and soul into Theranos,” said Jeffrey Coopersmith, who represents him. “He worked tirelessly, year after year, to make the company a success.”
Ms. Holmes, now 38, met Mr. Balwani when she was 18. They began dating years later, after Ms. Holmes had founded Theranos. Mr. Balwani joined Theranos in 2009, became its chief operating officer and eventually invested $ 4.6 million in the company and took control of the laboratory. The couple kept the relationship a secret and lived together in an expansive home they owned together in Atherton, California.
In 2016, after Theranos was criticized for lying about his ability to take blood samples, Balwani left the company and shared with Mrs Holmes. The couple were charged with fraud together, but Holmes argued in the proceedings to dismiss the cases and accused Balwani of emotional and sexual abuse. Her trial included dramatic testimonies that told of the charges. This topic was excluded from Mr. Balwani’s trial.
To convict Mr. Balwani, prosecutors must convince jurors that he deliberately lied to investors and patients about Theranos’ blood tests and business.
Prosecutors tried to blame Mr. Balwani for financial estimates that Theranos referred to investors and the condition of the laboratories. New witnesses included investors and executives who traded directly with Mr. Balwani, instead of Ms. Holmes.
A forecast, presented to investors in October 2014, showed that Theranos would bring in $ 140 million that year. In reality, the revenue was $ 150,000. The next year, Mr. Balwani estimated nearly $ 1 billion in revenue in pitches for investors. Theranos’ internal estimates were much lower, evidence showed, and the reality was $ 429,210.
Schenk said Theranos executives had asked researchers to validate blood tests and start offering tests to the public only when they needed money from investors or customers. “Not when science was ready,” he said.
A new witness, Patrick Mendenhall, who traded directly with Mr. Balwani while making an investment in Theranos, outlined the promises that turned out to be misleading or false.
Brian Grossman, an investor in the hedge fund PFM Health Sciences, who was also a witness in Ms. Holme’s lawsuit, testified that Mr. Balwani had given the team its financial estimate that far exceeded Theranos’ expected income.
“When Mr. Balwani communicates with an investor, it’s for a purpose, and the purpose is to trick them into making money,” Schenk said.
Prosecutors also stressed Balwani’s role in running Therano’s laboratory, which the leader called a “disaster zone” in a 2014 text message. Adam Rosendorff, a former laboratory director who testified in both trials, said Schenk.
Mr. Coopersmith, the defense attorney, said the government had painted a “very misleading” picture of Mr. Balwani’s time at Theranos and that it was unfair to show private texts out of context as evidence of a conspiracy.
The reports did not show that Balwani asked anyone to commit fraud, Coopersmith said. “If it was a conspiracy, you would think it would be all sorts of conspiratorial, scary conversations, and it just is not,” he said.
Particularly absent from the witness table were James Mattis, a former Secretary of Defense and board member of Theranos, and Ms. Holmes, who had both testified in Ms. Holmes trial. Mr. Balwani did not testify in his defense.
If convicted, Balwani and Holmes will be convicted together in September.
Erin Woo contributed with reporting.