Who is it actually To blame for Theranos’ shocking fall in blood test? Is it Elizabeth Holmes, the girl boss who is facing 11 charges of wire fraud for allegedly misleading investors? Or are company employees who have signed off on different reports that the technology is performing well? What about the members of Theranos’ board of directors – such as George Shultz, James Mattis and Henry Kissinger – who have received hundreds of thousands of dollars to advise the company? Or is it Ramesh Palwani, Holmes’ business partner and ex-boyfriend, who is separately facing 11 fraud charges?
Both of these theories were explored in the past several days when Holmes took a stand, 11 weeks after the experiment that captivated Silicon Valley and beyond. This is the first time she has told her story to herself since Theranos officially closed in 2018, the same year she was accused of fraud.
Holmes began her testimony on Friday afternoon, prompting record numbers of people to appear in court on Monday and Tuesday morning. Spectators began lining up as early as 2 a.m. this week, shivering as they waited for one of the limited seats at the San Jose courthouse. The crowd was filled with journalists, anxious citizens, and a shouting man “God bless you, chief girl!” Holmes also arrived on Tuesday. “The Valley has never seen such a high profile case of commercial fraud like this before,” says historian Margaret O’Mara, who has compared the scene to early iPhone versions. Holmes cashed in on the hype when her company started emerging in the early 2000s. She now found herself in a different kind of hype cycle.
As a young CEO, Holmes has often portrayed herself as a prodigy. She appeared on magazine covers and welcomed comparisons to Steve Jobs. But in court, Holmes — who is now 37 and no longer wears her trademark black high-collar shirt — emphasized the parts of her job that she delegated to others.
When asked who was in charge of verifying that the blood tests worked as promised, Holmes referred to Adam Rosendorf, director of Theranos Laboratory. The failed partnership with Walgreens came to Daniel Young, the “too smart” employee that Holmes had commissioned. The decision not to disclose that Theranos sometimes uses third-party devices is up to the company’s legal counsel, which Holmes said told it that the information constituted a “trade secret.” Balwani, not Holmes, was responsible for the company’s financial forecasts. The famous marketing that suggests the use of Theranos “one drop of blood”? Holmes testified that she did not personally sign every piece of marketing material created by Chiat Day, the expensive advertising company she hired.
This type of blame spreading is very common in fraud cases, says David Sklansky, who teaches and writes about criminal law at Stanford University. “This is probably the most common type of defense in cases involving allegations of financial fraud on a large scale,” he says. “His success depends on how credible he is to the jury.”