Sunny Balwani, the former Theranos executive and romantic partner of Elizabeth Holmes, could face a verdict this week on charges he defrauded company investors and patients, bringing the final chapter of the Theranos legal saga to a close.
Lawyers in the case began final arguments in the trial on Tuesday in a courtroom in San Jose, California. After both parties rest their cases, jurors will begin deliberation. Balwani faces up to 20 years in prison on similar charges to those brought against his alleged co-conspirator, Holmes, whose case was decided in January of this year.
Throughout Balwani’s trial, which began in March, federal prosecutors have depicted him as an instrumental accomplice in a fraud hatched by Holmes, his secret lover at the time. In turn, his lawyers depicted him as a loyal soldier who tried to save the blood-testing company.
“Mr Balwani is not a victim. He is the perpetrator of the fraud,” prosecutor Jeffrey Schenk said near the end of his three-and-a-half-hour closing argument on Tuesday.
Jeffrey Coopersmith, one of the lawyers representing Balwani, painted his client as a tireless executive who “put his money where his mouth is” by putting about $15m of his own fortune into Theranos between 2009 and 2011, because he believed in Holmes’s vision.
In addition to his financial involvement, Balwani joined the blood-testing startup as chief operating officer in 2010 while clandestinely living with Holmes. In her own trial, Holmes accused Balwani of abuse and of influencing her role in defrauding customers and investors.
“Mr Balwani put his heart and soul into Theranos,” Coopersmith said as he began his closing argument. Later, Coopersmith pointed out that Balwani was such an ardent supporter of Holmes and Theranos that he never sold his stake in the company, even though at one point it was worth $500m. It became worthless when the company collapsed.
The dueling presentations were among the finishing touches on a three-month trial that will determine whether Balwani will face a similar verdict to that of the Holmes trial, in which the jury spent seven days in deliberations before convicting her on four counts of investor fraud.
Coopersmith will continue his closing defense of Balwani on Wednesday, and then prosecutors will have a chance to present a rebuttal before US district judge Edward Davila reads his final instructions sending the jury into its deliberations.
Holmes, 38, is due to be sentenced later this year and faces up to 20 years in prison. It is a stunning reversal from the way she was once hailed in Silicon Valley as a technological visionary developing a revolutionary blood-testing technology – one who was once worth an estimated $4.5bn.
Balwani, 57, is accused of defrauding the same Theranos investors as Holmes, as well as duping patients who entrusted the analysis of their health to a blood-testing technology that did not work as promised. Holmes was acquitted of the charges of her accusing her of defrauding patients who had their blood tested by Theranos.
Holmes and Balwani began dating around the same time she dropped out of Stanford University at the age of 19 to start Theranos, when he was 38. The two later claimed to have discovered a way to test for more than 200 potential health problems with just a few drops of blood. They broke up in 2016 as Theranos collapsed amid revelations of serious flaws in its technology.
In a slide spelling out the criminal charges, the prosecution included a picture of Balwani alongside Holmes with the contents of a July 2015 text he sent to her. “I am responsible for everything at Theranos,” Balwani wrote to Holmes. “All have been my decisions too.”
Schenk also emphasized Balwani’s responsibility for overseeing Theranos’s blood-testing laboratory as part of an attempt to prove he endangered patients. In a 2014 text to Holmes, Balwani described the Theranos lab as a “disaster zone” that included a profane description because there were so many problems.