SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Disgraced entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes described herself as a puppet of her former lover and business partner Sunny Balwani in a tearful testimony on Monday as part of her attempt to rebut allegations that she lied about flawed blood test technology. it was hailed as a major breakthrough.
After describing how she met Balwani while she was still in high school, Holmes said that she eventually came under his influence after she dropped out of Stanford University in 2003 and founded Theranos, a Silicon Valley startup she led. as CEO for the next 15 years.
Crying Holmes, now 37, testified to being raped at Stanford, a factor she believes played a role in what she described as her later submission to Balwani, now 56. The two developed a romantic relationship in 2005. before Balwani became Chief Operating Officer of Theranos, a position he held from 2009 to 2016.
Even before joining Theranos, Balwani regularly scolded Holmes for being an inept leader who needed to “kill” himself in the past to become more disciplined and focused, according to her testimony and then-written notes with strict instructions for Holmes, written by Balwani’s hand.
“He felt like I looked like a little girl and thought I needed to be more serious and harsher,” Holmes explained as he read Balwani’s demands. These included spending at least 30 minutes each morning writing down your daily goals, and never spending more than five minutes meeting with anyone, unless she wrote down a reason justifying the extra time.
According to Holmes, if she doesn’t do what Balwani said, he will scream and tell her that he is “so disappointed with my mediocrity.”
On other occasions, Holmes said, Balwani likened her to “a monkey flying in a spaceship,” and tried to cut her off from her family, ostensibly trying to ensure that she was fully committed to Theranos. She also said that he monitored her diet, trying to keep her “clean.” Sometimes, after Balwani humiliated her, Holmes testified, he forced her to have sex against her will to show that he loved her.
The dramatic turnaround came on the fourth day of Holmes’ testimony before a jury weighing allegations of fraud, including investor and customer fraud, while putting patients at risk by telling elaborate lies about the company’s development of a supposedly revolutionary blood test device. If Holmes is found guilty, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
Fourteen jurors, including two substitutes, listened intently, but without visible emotion, as Holmes described her relationship with Balwani.
Balwani is facing fraud charges similar to those against Holmes in another trial set to begin early next year. He and Holmes ended their relationship in May 2016 after she moved out of the Silicon Valley home they’d shared for years, while keeping their romantic relationship a secret.
Federal prosecutors wanted to try Balwani alongside Holmes, but US District Judge Edward Davila split the proceedings over the likelihood that Holmes would blame her behavior for “intimate partner abuse.”
Jeffrey Coopersmith, Balwani’s attorney, has vehemently denied Holmes’ allegations of ill-treatment. Although Coopersmith was present at Holmes’ testimony on Monday, Balwani could not be there because he is prohibited from being in the courtroom in the presence of Holmes.
Holmes Balwani’s portrait contrasted sharply with other evidence indicating that he always obeyed Holmes – the subject of flattering business profiles comparing her to the female version of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, whom she adopted as one of her role models.
Holmes briefly became a paper billionaire, promising that Theranos could provide more convenient and cheaper tests to find hundreds of potential health problems with just a few drops of blood. Routine tests usually require a tube of blood drawn from a vein.
Her presentation helped Theranos attract nearly $ 1 billion from seasoned investors and attract an impressive board of directors, including former cabinet ministers from presidential administrations from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump. The company collapsed after a series of explosive Wall Street Journal articles and regulatory audits that revealed clear inaccuracies in Theranos blood tests.
Holmes said in her testimony that most people did not realize how much Balwani was in control of her because most of his alleged abuses took place outside the office.
When questioned by one of her lawyers, Holmes admitted that Balwani never told her what to tell the investors she is now accused of cheating. She also testified that Balwani was not influenced by her discussions with Walgreens and Safeway, two major retailers who agreed to use Theranos blood test technology, before backing down after finding it was not working as she promised.
Instead, Holmes says that she did her best to solve the problems at Theranos in order to realize her ambitions. But she also said she couldn’t explain all of how Balwani influenced her over the years they were together.
“He was not who I thought he was,” Holmes said, adding that Balwani “influenced everything that concerned me, and I do not fully understand it.”
Holmes will return to the testimony site on Tuesday when prosecutors get their first chance to roast her under oath.