SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Disgraced entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes described herself as her ex-lover and business partner Sunny Balwanis abusing the puppet in tearful testimony Monday, part of her attempt to refute allegations that she lied about a flawed blood test technology she had hailed as a major breakthrough.
After recounting how she met Balwani while still in high school, Holmes said she eventually fell under his influence after dropping out of Stanford University in 2003 to found Theranos, a Silicon Valley startup she led as CEO for the next 15 years.
A crying Holmes, now 37, testified that she was raped at Stanford – a factor she believes played a role in what she characterized as her later submissiveness to Balwani, now 56. The two became romantically involved in 2005, before Balwani became chief operations officer at Theranos, a position he held from 2009 to 2016.
Even before Balwani came to Theranos, Balwani regularly scolded Holmes as an incompetent leader who needed to “kill” his former self in an attempt to become more disciplined and focused, according to her testimony and contemporary notes with strict instructions to Holmes, handwritten by Balwani.
“He felt like I came across as a little girl and thought I should be more serious and more pointed,” Holmes explained as she read through Balwani’s demands. They included spending at least 30 minutes each morning writing her daily goals and never spending more than five minutes meeting with anyone unless she had written down a reason that justified the extra time.
If she did not do what Balwani said, Holmes said, he would shout and tell her he was “so disappointed in my mediocrity.”
At other times, Holmes said, Balwani would compare her to a “monkey flying a spaceship” and tried to cut her off from her family in an alleged attempt to ensure she devoted herself to Theranos full-time. She also said he controlled her diet in an attempt to keep her “clean.” Sometimes, after Balwani humiliated her, Holmes testified, he would force her to have sex against her will to show that he loved her.
The dramatic turnaround came during the fourth day of Holmes’ testimony before a jury that weighed allegations of fraud that include fraud by investors and customers, while exposing patients to risk by telling detailed lies about the company’s development of an allegedly revolutionary blood test. . Holmes risks a prison sentence of up to 20 years if convicted.
The 14 jurors, including two deputies, listened intently but with little visible emotion as Holmes described her relationship with Balwani.
Balwani faces charges of fraud that reflect them against Holmes in another lawsuit scheduled to begin early next year. He and Holmes ended their relationship in May 2016 after she moved out of the Silicon Valley home, which they shared for years while keeping their romantic relationship hidden.
Federal prosecutors wanted to try Balwani with Holmes, but U.S. District Judge Edward Davila dismissed the case because of the possibility that Holmes would blame some of her behavior for “intimate partner abuse.”
Jeffrey Coopersmith, Balwani’s lawyer, has vehemently denied Holmes’ allegations of abuse. Although Coopersmith was present for Holmes ‘testimony on Monday, Balwani could not be there because he is banned from being in the courtroom in Holmes’ presence.
Holmes ‘portrait of Balwani stood in stark contrast to other testimonies, indicating that he always adhered to Holmes’ topic of flattering business profiles, comparing her to a 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 deliver more convenient and cheaper tests that scanned for hundreds of potential health problems using just a few drops of blood. Conventional tests typically require a vial of blood drawn from a vein.
Her pitch helped Theranos raise nearly $ 1 billion from sophisticated investors and attract an impressive board, including former cabinet secretaries from the presidential administrations from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump. The company collapsed after a series of explosive articles in the Wall Street Journal and regulatory audits revealed violent inaccuracies in Theranos’ blood tests.
In his testimony, Holmes said most people did not realize how much Balwani controlled her because most of his alleged abuse took place outside the office. Her condemnation of Balwani stood in contrast to some of the treacherous texts she sent that addressed him as a “tiger”.
During a barrage of texts in April 2016, about a month before her romance with Balwani ended, Holmes quoted poet Maya Angelou. “In the whole world there is no heart for me like yours. In the whole world there is no love for you as mine,” Holmes told him.
During questioning by one of her lawyers, Holmes admitted that Balwani never told her what to say to the investors she is now accused of having deceived. She also testified that Balwani did not influence her discussions with Walgreens and Safeway, two major retailers who agreed to use Theranos’ blood test technology before retiring after discovering it was not working as she promised .
Holmes says instead that she did everything she could to clean up the problems at Theranos in an attempt to realize her ambitions. But she also said she could not explain all the different ways Balwani influenced her in the years they were together.
“He was not who I thought he was,” Holmes said, adding that Balwani “influenced everything about who I was and I do not quite understand it.”
Holmes returns to the witness stand on Tuesday when prosecutors get their first chance to grill her under oath.
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