Elizabeth Holmes found guilty in criminal fraud trial

A jury found Elizabeth Holmes guilty of conspiring to defraud investors in failed blood testing start-up Theranos, delivering a victory to federal prosecutors in one of Silicon Valley’s most high-profile criminal fraud cases.

The jurors also convicted Holmes of three counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, while finding her not guilty on four further counts. They were deadlocked on three remaining charges. Holmes can appeal against the verdict in state appeals court.

Jurors read out their decision following a dramatic day of deliberations at a federal courthouse in San Jose, California. Earlier, Judge Edward Davila had instructed the jury to continue their deliberations after they said they could not reach a unanimous verdict on all of the charges.

Holmes expressed little emotion as the verdict was read and left the courtroom with her lawyers after briefly hugging her partner and parents, according to US wire reports. She had pleaded not guilty to the charges, which each carrying up to 20 years in prison.

The trial had engrossed tech industry watchers and fuelled a debate over the limits of Silicon Valley’s start-up culture at a time when venture capital is pouring in at a record pace.

The verdict is the culmination of a nearly two decade-long saga that started in 2003, when Holmes, now 37, founded Theranos after dropping out of Stanford University. At its zenith, the company was valued at $9bn and she became a media darling who was profiled in multiple magazine cover stories.

But Theranos ended up being the subject a barrage of critical media reports, most notably by former Wall Street Journal journalist John Carreyrou, whose reporting in 2015 sparked additional scrutiny of the company.

A slew of regulatory investigations followed, sending the company into a tailspin that resulted in its break-up in 2018.

Holmes had claimed Theranos’s novel technology could perform a wide range of tests using just a few drops of blood, though the company in the main relied on commercially available machines.

The trial largely focused on whether Holmes intended to defraud investors in her company.

Prosecutors presented reams of documentary evidence and testimony from 29 witnesses, who detailed problems at Theranos’s laboratories and its evasive communications with investors.

The evidence provided the most detailed account of how Theranos operated, revealing multiple instances in which Holmes appeared to promote misleading information.

Holmes admitted to placing the logos of pharmaceutical groups including Pfizer on Theranos documents she sent to investors, even though they had not endorsed the company’s technology.

“She chose fraud over business failure,” prosecutor Jeff Schenk said during closing arguments. “She chose to be dishonest. This choice was not only callous, it was criminal.”

The defence team had tried to cast Holmes as an earnest entrepreneur who failed to deliver on promises to transform the blood testing industry. They also attempted to shift blame to others at Theranos, including Ramesh Balwani, who oversaw its finances as its president and chief operating officer.

Testifying in her own defence, Holmes accused Balwani, with whom she had a romantic relationship, of mental and sexual abuse, allegations his attorney has previously denied. Balwani will face similar fraud charges in a separate trial expected to begin in February.

“Elizabeth Holmes was building a business and not a criminal enterprise,” Kevin Downey, her attorney at Williams & Connolly, said during closing arguments.

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