Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, the ex-boyfriend of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, was sentenced to nearly 13 years in federal prison Wednesday for conspiring to defraud and defrauding patients and investors with false and misleading statements about the company's blood-testing technology.
Balwani, 57, who invested in the Silicon Valley startup and served as its president and chief operating officer, was ordered to report to prison on March 15, 2023, to begin his 155-month sentence, according to reporters present for the hearing. He was convicted in July of 12 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy. US District Judge Edward Davila said he would determine whether Balwani should pay any restitution to victims at a later date.
Before announcing his decision, Davila talked about Balwani's educational and professional background, saying that it was "tragic" to see his career end in this way.
“This was a successful business. The idea was strong,” Davila said of Theranos, according to the New York Times. But when problems arose, Balwani “chose to go forward with deception.”
Balwani's sentencing comes weeks after Holmes, who sought to revolutionize healthcare with a device she claimed could make medical diagnoses using just a fingerprick of blood, was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison — 135 months — for conspiring to defraud and defrauding Theranos investors. Federal prosecutors had recommended that both former executives receive 15-year prison sentences, though Holmes was convicted of fewer counts than Balwani and acquitted of the charges relating to patients. Each count carried a maximum sentence of 20 years.
In their sentencing memo, prosecutors argued that Balwani, who oversaw the company's laboratory, was well aware that Theranos's technology was "not only immature but also inaccurate," yet he chose to ignore those issues and presented a "fake story" about the company to investors and patients "after making the calculated decision that honesty would destroy Theranos."
"He ignored innumerable opportunities to choose a lawful path," prosecutors wrote.
They described his criminal conduct as "serious, extended, and extremely damaging" and argued that giving Balwani a harsher sentence than what was imposed on Holmes "would not result in an unwarranted sentence disparity."
But Balwani's attorneys insisted that he should receive a lesser sentence than what was given to Holmes, arguing as they did at trial that Holmes was primarily responsible for Theranos's failures while Balwani truly believed in the company's technology. They lamented that prosecutors' proposed sentence would "essentially be life-ending" for Balwani, who will turn 58 in June, as they asked that the court sentence him to probation and no prison time.
"Before this Court is a defendant with a long track record of trying to make the most positive impact on society that he possibly could," his attorneys wrote in a sentencing memo. "Mr. Balwani is not the same as Elizabeth Holmes: he actually invested millions of dollars of his own money; he never sought fame or recognition; and he has a long history of quietly giving to those less fortunate ... without seeking recognition or benefit."
Unlike Holmes, who told the court at her sentencing hearing that she regretted her "failings" at Theranos, Balwani did not make a statement before learning his fate.