Elizabeth Holmes heading for prison as appeal fails

Elizabeth Holmes
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

Elizabeth Holmes onstage at TechCrunch SF 2014

Disgraced former biotech chief Elizabeth Holmes will start an 11-year prison sentence at the end of this month, after a federal judge denied her request to remain free while she appeals her conviction for wire fraud and conspiracy.

Ex-Theranos chief executive Holmes was found guilty of four of 11 charges brought against her in January 2022 after a three-month jury trial, and was sentenced to 135 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release last November. She appealed the verdict in December.

Judge Edward Davila acknowledged in his ruling that Holmes “has presented clear and convincing evidence that she is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of the community,” given that her appearance is secured by a $500,000 bond on her parents’ home and “strong ties to the community, including two very young children.”

A red flag was raised by her partner booking an international one-way flight that was due to depart a few weeks after the jury delivered its decision on the case, which Davila described as a “bold move”, while the failure to cancel the flight after the guilty verdict was a “perilously careless oversight”. On balance, however, he said the court was satisfied there had been no intention to flee.

That said, Davila’s opinion is that, while there had been some evidentiary and procedural issues with the trial, they were not sufficiently substantial to result in a reversal or an order for a new trial on appeal. Holmes has been ordered to surrender to the authorities on 27th April.

Her appeal is considered to be a longshot, given that her attempt at a post-trial acquittal was rebuffed, along with three attempts to force a new trial.

The college dropout founded Theranos in 2003 when she was 19, and in the following years was feted as the ‘next Steve Jobs’, amid claims that the biotech’s technology could diagnose a host of diseases with just a few drops of blood taken with a finger prick, rather than a larger sample drawn from a patient’s vein.

Everything started to unravel, however, when a Wall Street Journal investigation in 2015 discovered that most of the tests Theranos claimed to perform on its analyser were actually being performed by standard blood-testing machines.

Theranos raised almost $1 billion from investors before the company, and its claims, were eventually exposed as a sham. The company folded in 2018.

Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, the former business and romantic partner of Holmes, was sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison last December, after being convicted of wire fraud.

Photo by Steve Jennings/Getty Images for TechCrunch, via WikiMedia Commons