Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes accused her former boyfriend and business partner Ramesh Balwani of repeated forced sex during testimony in her criminal fraud trial, casting him as an abusive partner who strongly influenced her management of the company.
Holmes said in federal court on Monday that Balwani would berate her performance as chief executive of the blood-testing start-up. He would sometimes become angry and perform forced intercourse on her, she testified, adding that Balwani said he wanted her to know he “still loved me”.
Holmes faces 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud over her claims that Theranos had revolutionised blood testing technology. Theranos shut down in 2018 after revelations that the company’s proprietary machines did not always perform as intended. Holmes faces 20 years in prison if convicted.
She has pleaded not guilty, and in her fourth and final day of direct testimony, guided by defense attorneys at the law firm Williams & Connolly, she attempted to rebut accusations that she intentionally misled investors and other business partners while building Theranos into a $9bn company.
In the courtroom in San Jose, California, Holmes attempted to portray Balwani as a domineering force whose influence contributed to the company’s downfall and affected her leadership.
“He would get very angry with me and then he would sometimes come upstairs to our bedroom and he would force me to have sex with him when I didn’t want to,” Holmes said.
Balwani and Holmes lived together from 2005 until his departure from the company in 2016, she said. An attorney for Balwani did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Balwani’s attorneys have previously denied accusations of abuse.
Holmes’ defense team presented text messages and notes from Holmes’ cell phone that referred to times when Balwani had performed forced sex, she testified.
After one incident, Holmes testified, she wrote in a text to Balwani: “I hate this.” Following another incident, according to Holmes, she wrote a note on her cell phone reading: “Don’t enjoy literally anything about it or who I am if I did it.”
Holmes also accused Balwani of exerting a strong influence on her behaviour as an executive, convincing her to maintain a strict schedule and diet. She said she dropped out of Stanford University to found Theranos after being raped at the school, and Balwani, who is 20 years older, had said she was “safe now that I had met him”.
Asked by Kevin Downey, defence attorney, about the effect her relationship with Balwani had on her work at Theranos, Holmes said: “He impacted everything about who I was and I don’t fully understand that.”
Attorneys for Holmes have alleged that she suffered from an “abusive intimate-partner relationship” with Balwani and had a psychologist specialising in trauma perform 14 hours of evaluation on her.
Over the weekend, prosecutors formally opposed attempts by Holmes’ legal team to admit prior statements by Balwani into the case, arguing that they must attempt to call him to testify first. Judge Edward Davila did not immediately make a ruling on the matter.
Balwani’s attorney has said he would invoke his right not to testify if he was called to do so, according to the defence team.
Davila ordered in March last year that Balwani and Holmes would face separate trials after originally being charged together on the same counts.