Theranos’s Balwani gets nearly 13 years over blood-testing hoax

Former chief operating officer of US blood-testing startup was found guilty of conspiracy and fraud in July.

Sunny Balwani
Former Theranos executive Ramesh 'Sunny' Balwani has been sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison for defrauding investors and patients [File: Michael Short/Bloomberg]

Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, the former Theranos executive and business partner of disgraced biotech entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes, has been sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison for defrauding investors and patients.

Balwani, 57, was on Wednesday sentenced to 12 years and 11 months in prison after being found guilty in July of two counts of conspiracy and 10 counts of fraud over his role in the blood-testing startup Theranos’s fraudulent claims.

United States District Judge Edward Davila deferred a decision on a request by prosecutors for Balwani to be ordered to pay $804m in restitution – the same amount sought from Holmes – to a later hearing.

Balwani’s sentence comes less than a month after Theranos founder and former CEO Holmes was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison for her role in the scandal, which cast a light on the pitfalls of Silicon Valley’s culture of boundless ambition and cutthroat competition.

Balwani, who was in a romantic relationship with Holmes until 2016, had faced up to 20 years in prison.

Federal prosecutors had sought a 15-year sentence for Balwani, who was the chief operating officer and president at Theranos, arguing he had presented a “fake story about Theranos’ technology and financial stability day after day in meeting after meeting.”

Balwani’s lawyers, who argued the Indian-born entrepreneur was not motivated by greed or fame and had suffered considerably due to the intense media coverage of Theranos, had asked for four-10 months.

Theranos, which was founded in 2003 by Holmes when she was 19, claimed to have devised new blood-testing technology that allowed patients to easily perform more than 200 different medical tests with a pinprick of blood.

In reality, the company secretly used traditional testing methods and gave patients inaccurate results.

Theranos, which was once valued at $10bn and had the backing of high-profile investors including former US Treasury Secretary George Schultz and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, was widely lauded as a Silicon Valley success story, with Holmes drawing comparisons to Steve Jobs.

The startup’s downfall, which has been chronicled in a book, documentary and award-winning TV series, was set in motion in 2015 after scientists and a series of reports in the Wall Street Journal called into question the company’s claims.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies