Sentencing is due to get under way for the Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who faces up to 20 years in prison over her role in the blood testing firm that collapsed after its technology was revealed to be largely fraudulent.
Holmes is due to return on Friday morning to the San Jose, California, courthouse where her nearly four-month-long trial took place in 2021. She was convicted in January on four counts of defrauding investors.
Experts say Holmes is likely to face substantial time behind bars, with federal sentencing guidelines suggesting additional years for larger dollar amounts of fraud. The charges for which Holmes was convicted included wire fraud totaling more than $140m.
Federal prosecutors have suggested the judge sentence Holmes to 15 years in prison and require her to pay $800m in restitution, while the founder’s lawyers have requested a sentence of no more than 18 months to be served on house arrest.
Holmes founded Theranos after dropping out of Stanford at 19 years old, promising a revolutionary technology that could run hundreds of health tests on just a drop of blood. The company attracted big-name backers like former secretary of state Henry Kissinger and the former defense secretary James Mattis, who testified against her in the trial.
Theranos’s downward spiral began when the Wall Street Journal in 2015 revealed shortcomings and inaccuracies in its core technology. Theranos dissolved in 2018 and Holmes was charged with 12 counts of fraud, alongside her co-executive and former romantic partner Sunny Balwani, who was convicted on 12 counts in his own trial.
More than 130 people submitted letters of support for Holmes ahead of the hearing, including her current partner Billy Evans and Senator Cory Booker. “I firmly believe in the possibility of rehabilitation and in the power of redemption for anyone,” Booker wrote of Holmes, whom he said he considers a friend.
Throughout the trial, Holmes’s lawyers cast her as an ambitious but misguided young founder who was unaware of the extent to which Theranos’s technology was malfunctioning. In a letter to judges filed last week, they argued sending Holmes to prison was unnecessary.
“Ms Holmes is no danger to the public,” Holmes’s lawyers said in the court documents. “She has no criminal history, has a perfect pre-trial services compliance record and is described by the people who know her repeatedly as a gentle and loving person who tries to do the right thing.”
Her legal team has also argued Holmes was the victim of abuse at the hands of Balwani, who they say influenced her decisions at the company that led to its collapse. Balwani, who has denied these claims, is due to be sentenced in December.