August 17, 2022

New windows into Holmes’ life, vegan diet

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes tried to keep secret both her food preferences and her intimate…

Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes tried to keep secret both her food preferences and her intimate relationship with company president Sunny Balwani, according to an interview with her personal assistant detailed in an FBI report filed in court in connection with Holmes’ criminal fraud trial.

“Holmes was very private,” the assistant, Paige Williams, who worked for Holmes from June 2015 to July 2018,  told the FBI. “Sensitive items included Holmes’ food preferences.” Shopping lists for Holmes’ food at home and work were “kept private” because “she was vegan for a period and did not want it to be made a big deal,” according to the FBI report.

Williams also told the FBI that the relationship between Holmes and Balwani was “very secret.” She said that Holmes’ executive assistant had told her Holmes “lived with someone,” but “It should not be discussed.” Williams said that she only learned the Theranos founder lived with Balwani after visiting the home the couple shared.

Holmes, who is charged with a dozen felony counts related to her failed Palo Alto blood-testing startup, has said in court filings that during a lengthy relationship, Balwani abused and coerced her in ways that led to post-traumatic stress disorder and bear upon the issue of guilt in the case. She’s on trial in U.S. District Court in San Jose.

There was a sense at the company that “Balwani was asserting too much power in the laboratory science side of things, which he did not have knowledge about,” Williams told the FBI, but Holmes was in charge of “overall operations and decisions at Theranos” and was the “ultimate decision maker.” Holmes and Balwani usually didn’t interact at office parties, Williams said, and “treated each other with respect.”

Holmes legal team, in a December 2020 court filing, said that during her trial she plans to “introduce evidence of Mr. Balwani’s abuse to negate the government’s proof that she had the specific intent to defraud.” She intends to argue that “she deferred to, relied on, trusted, and believed Mr. Balwani, and the abusive context of the relationship explains why she did so,” according to the filing, which said that Holmes plans to testify about the claimed abuse. A court filing from Balwani’s lawyers said he “categorically denies Ms. Holmes’ allegations.”

Holmes, a Stanford University dropout who founded Theranos in 2003 at age 19, is charged with allegedly bilking investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars, and defrauding doctors and patients with false claims that the company’s machines could conduct a full range of tests using just a few drops of blood. She and Balwani, who is charged with the same crimes, have denied the allegations. Balwani is scheduled to be tried next year.

At home, Holmes and Balwani “wanted to create a relaxed and zen feeling in their house,” Williams said. On Valentine’s Day in 2016, “Balwani and Holmes had each asked Williams to buy flowers as a surprise for each other,” the document said. “Williams did not see any cruel behavior, whether verbal or physical, between Balwani and Holmes. Balwani very much seemed to have admiration for Holmes,” the FBI said in its report.

Williams’ FBI interview also included insights into Holmes’ lifestyle, gathered in part through Williams’ shopping duties, which usually entailed going to luxury department store Neiman Marcus at the posh Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto.

“Sometimes Williams would drive to San Francisco, if something was unavailable or there was something in particular Holmes wanted,” the FBI report said. “For example, there was a particular purse that Williams drove to San Francisco to pick up and there was a jewelry store in San Francisco that Holmes preferred. Holmes when traveling usually stayed at “higher-end” hotels including New York City’s Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons and The Carlyle, Williams said.

Williams, told the FBI that in mid-2015, Holmes and Balwani were chartering planes, but that “there was a shift to commercial planes” after a Wall Street Journal exposé on the company published in October that year.

Though Williams described Holmes as “wonderful” to work with, another former employee told the FBI that Holmes and Balwani so frequently blamed workers for not laboring hard or long enough that there was a “carousel” of employees who were terminated.

“People would be fired after they ticked off Holmes or Balwani in meetings,” former Theranos office administrator Nicole Canas told the FBI, according to a document filed in court. Canas told agents Balwani would “stomp” around the office, and recalled that a scientist who once upset Holmes “was let go that same day.”

Holmes and Balwani “worked as a unit,” said Canas, who worked at the firm from December 2010 to November 2011, according to the filing.

Federal prosecutors have attacked Holmes’ claims that alleged abuse by Balwani affects the matter of guilt, calling Holmes’ argument a “clearly improper” bid to burnish her credibility and gain sympathy among jurors.

Elizabeth Holmes trial: New windows into Holmes’ life, vegan diet and ‘very secret’ relationship