A US jury on Monday found Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes guilty of conspiring to defraud investors in the blood testing startup, convicting her on four of 11 counts.
Holmes was convicted on charges of defrauding three other investors, as well as conspiring to do so. She was acquitted on three counts of defrauding patients who paid for tests from Theranos, and a related conspiracy charge. The jury could not reach a decision on three counts related to individual investors.
Prosecutors said Holmes, 37, swindled private investors between 2010 and 2015 by convincing them that Theranos’ small machines could run a range of tests with a few drops of blood from a finger prick. She faces up to 80 years in prison when sentenced by US District Judge Edward Davila but would likely get a much lower sentence.
Holmes was also charged with misleading patients about the tests’ accuracy but was acquitted of those charges. Holmes is likely to appeal. The jury’s verdict came after seven days of deliberations.
Holmes rose to Silicon Valley fame after founding Theranos in 2003. Her net worth was estimated at $4.5 billion by Forbes in 2015. Wealthy private investors including media mogul Rupert Murdoch invested millions in the company after meeting with the founder who was known for her Steve Jobs-like black turtleneck.
The case has shed light on Theranos’ failed endeavor to revolutionise lab testing. The company secretly relied on conventional machines manufactured by Siemens to run patients’ tests, prosecutors said. Theranos collapsed after the Wall Street Journal published a series of articles that suggested its devices were flawed and inaccurate.
Holmes was indicted in 2018 alongside Theranos’ former chief operating officer Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. She had pleaded not guilty to nine counts of fraud and two counts of conspiracy. Balwani also has pleaded not guilty and will be tried at a later date.
During the trial in San Jose, California, which began in September, jurors heard testimony from former Theranos employees who said they left the company after witnessing problems with its technology. Investors testified that Holmes made misleading claims about Theranos, such as that its machines were being used in the field by the US military. And former patients told jurors that they would not have used Theranos’ tests if they had known the tests were flawed.
Prosecutors said had Holmes been truthful with investors and patients, the venture never would have attracted critical funding and revenue. “She chose fraud over business failure. She chose to be dishonest,” Assistant US Attorney Jeff Schenk said at the start of closing arguments. “That choice was not only callous, it was criminal.”
Testifying in her own defense at trial, Holmes said she never meant to deceive anyone and that Theranos’ lab directors were in charge of test quality. In closing arguments, defense attorney Kevin Downey said the evidence did not show Holmes was motivated by a cash crunch at Theranos, but rather thought she was “building a technology that would change the world.”