Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, 58, the former president of the fraudulent biotech company Theranos, was sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison on Wednesday for fraud.
Prosecutors originally recommended Balwani receive at least 15 years in prison, which would be a longer sentence than what Elizabeth Holmes, the founder and face of Theranos, received in October, NBC News reported.
Theranos rose to fame on promises of quick and easy blood tests for hundreds of conditions based on just a drop of blood. The company raised millions of dollars from high-profile donors including Bill Gates and Henry Kissinger. Though the company was lauded by the Obama administration, with then-Vice President Joe Biden touring the company as part of a publicity stunt, a series of investigative articles from The Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou revealed the company was lying about its underlying technology.
While Holmes was the face of the company, hailed in the media for being a female tech entrepreneur, Balwani oversaw the company’s labs and ensured faulty test results would be ignored.
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“Mr. Balwani knew that Theranos was not generating, and would not generate, any meaningful revenue by being honest with people,” said U.S. Attorney Jeff Schenk, according to NBC. “So he chose a different path.”
At her trial, Holmes argued that she was simply a young, naïve, and ambitious woman who relied on the wrong people to get her company started. When Holmes actually testified, however, she presented herself the way she had done to investors when Theranos was still operating — as an expert about her company and its technology.
Holmes also tried to blame Balwani for abuse, as the two were romantic partners while operating Theranos. Text messages between the two, however, showed a loving relationship, although Balwani had a reputation for treating employees poorly.
In his documentary, “The Inventor,” filmmaker Alex Gibney revealed that while Balwani was considered a tyrant to those who worked for him, he was deferential to Holmes and always appeared supportive of her.
Other texts show Holmes and Balwani apparently discussing how to undermine the claims from two Theranos whistleblowers — Tyler Shultz and Erika Cheung. The two also discussed how they would respond to reporting from Carreyrou, who months later published a damning article showing that Theranos’ machines could not perform the blood tests they claimed. Carreyrou’s reporting revealed that Theranos was lying about its capabilities and using traditional blood analyzers to run most of its blood tests.
Balwani pointed the finger back at Holmes at trial, saying that she founded and built Theranos and thus carried most of the blame.