Elizabeth Holmes Testifies She Was the Victim of Sexual and Emotional Abuse

After three months of trial, former CEO and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes took the witness stand in her own defense. Holmes is accused of intentionally misleading investors and patients about the state of her company’s blood-testing technology and its business performance.

On Monday, Holmes testified that she was the victim of sexual and emotional abuse from her former romantic and business partner, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. Holmes’ defense argues that Balwani’s alleged abuse took place during the time of the accused crimes and hindered her ability to think clearly. 

“He told me that I didn’t know what I was doing in business, that my convictions were wrong, that he was astonished at my mediocrity and if I followed my instincts I was going to fail.” she said.

Holmes explained that she had been raped as a student at Stanford and that dropping out of school and dedicating herself to Theranos was her way of processing the trauma. She recounted that she met Balwani when she was 18 and he was 37. Holmes left Stanford in March 2004 and moved in with Balwani in 2005.

Although she did not give an exact date for the beginning of the alleged abuse, she testified that Balwani controlled her by dictating what she ate, how she dressed, and how she talked. She also said that he would criticize her via text message during meetings.

Holmes did not disagree when Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Leach remarked several times that she had the power to fire Balwani whenever she wanted.

She testified that Balwani left Theranos in May 2016, after a report of a 2015 lab inspection indicated that the company’s operations posed “immediate jeopardy to patient safety.” In response, Holmes said, she hired lab directors that reported to her and got outside advisors.

Holmes said that Balwani did not control what she told investors, journalists, or others about the company, but when asked about how he affected her work, she replied, “I don’t know. He impacted everything about who I was and I don’t fully understand that.”

Witnesses previously testified that Balwani would defer to Holmes, that Holmes did most of the talking during meetings, and that she was in charge of the company.

Holmes is charged with 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If the jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that Holmes intentionally misled investors and patients, she will face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

Additional Reading

Elizabeth Holmes grilled by prosecutors on witness stand in her criminal fraud trial, NPR (November 30, 2021)

Elizabeth Holmes testified about alleged sexual and emotional abuse at fraud trial, NPR (November 29, 2021)

Elizabeth Holmes Says Theranos’ Former President Abused Her, The Verge (November 29, 2021)

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