Former Theranos CEO Holmes Tearfully Testifies About Ex-Lover's Controlling Tactics

Former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes tearfully testified about ex-lover and business partner Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani's controlling tactics Monday.

During her testimony in her criminal fraud trial, Holmes told the story of how she met Balwani when she was in high school. After dropping out of Stanford University in 2003 to build Theranos, she said she became enamored with him, The Associated Press reported.

Holmes, 37, explained that she was raped while at Stanford. She believes this was a factor in what she called her obedience to Balwani, 56. In 2005, the pair started a relationship before Balwani became Theranos' chief operating officer. He held the position from 2009 to 2016.

Balwani regularly called Holmes incompetent and said she had to "kill" her previous self to be better focused and disciplined. This behavior started before Balwani became part of Theranos, Holmes said.

"He felt like I came across as a little girl and thought I needed to be more serious and more pointed," Holmes said as she read through Balwani's demands. Some examples of the demands were spending a minimum of 30 minutes in the morning writing her daily goals and spending no more than 5 minutes meeting with someone unless there was a written reason for the extra time.

Holmes said Balwani would yell and tell her he was "so disappointed in my mediocrity" if she failed to comply.

Additionally, Holmes said that Balwani would sometimes compare her to a "monkey flying a space ship" and attempted to isolate her from her family so she could dedicate herself to Theranos. Balwani forced her to have sex with him at times after berating her, Holmes said. She said he also controlled her diet so she could be "pure."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos, Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani
Elizabeth Holmes, center, leaves federal court in San Jose, Calif., Monday, Nov. 22, 2021. Holmes, the one-time medical entrepreneur now charged with building a fraudulent company based on promises of a revolutionary technology, returned to the witness stand Monday. Nic Coury/AP Photo

The dramatic turn came during the fourth day of Holmes' testimony before a jury weighing fraud charges that include swindling investors and customers while putting patients at risk by telling elaborate lies about the company's development of an allegedly revolutionary blood-testing device. Holmes could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years if convicted.

The 14 jurors, including two alternates, listened attentively but with little visible emotion as Holmes described her relationship with Balwani.

Balwani faces fraud allegations mirroring those against Holmes in another trial scheduled to begin early next year. He and Holmes ended their relationship in May 2016 after she moved out of the Silicon Valley home that they shared for years while keeping their romantic relationship concealed.

Federal prosecutors wanted to try Balwani alongside Holmes, but U.S. District Judge Edward Davila separated the proceedings because of the possibility that Holmes would blame some of her behavior on"intimate partner abuse."

Jeffrey Coopersmith, Balwani's lawyer, has vehemently denied Holmes' abuse allegations. Although Coopersmith was present for Holmes' testimony Monday, Balwani couldn't be there because he is prohibited from being in the courtroom in Holmes' presence.

Holmes' portrait of Balwani stood in sharp contrast to other testimony indicating that he always deferred to Holmes — the subject of flattering business profiles likening her to a female version of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who she adopted as one of her role models.

Holmes briefly became a paper billionaire while promising that Theranos could provide more convenient and cheaper tests scanning for hundreds of potential health problems using just a few drops of blood. Conventional tests typically require a vial of blood drawn from a vein.

Her pitch helped Theranos raise nearly $1 billion from sophisticated investors and attract an impressive board of directors including former Cabinet secretaries from the administrations of presidents from Richard Nixon to Donald Trump. The company collapsed after a series of explosive articles in the Wall Street Journal and regulatory audits revealed rampant inaccuracies in Theranos' blood tests.,

In her testimony, Holmes said most people didn't realize how much Balwani controlled her because most of his alleged abuse occurred outside the office. Her condemnation of Balwani contrasted with some of the treacly texts she sent addressing him as "tiger."

During a flurry of texts in April 2016, about a month before her romance with Balwani ended, Holmes quoted the poet Maya Angelou. "In all the world, there is no heart for me like yours. In all the world there is no love for you like mine," Holmes told him.

Under questioning by one of her attorneys, Holmes acknowledged that Balwani never told her what to say to the investors she is now accused of deceiving. She also testified that Balwani didn't influence her discussions with Walgreens and Safeway, two major retailers that agreed to use Theranos' blood-testing technology before backing out after discovering it wasn't performing as she promised.

Holmes instead says she did everything she could to clean up the problems at Theranos in an effort to realize her ambitions. But she also said she couldn't explain all the different ways Balwani affected her during the years they were together.

"He wasn't who I thought he was," Holmes said, adding that Balwani "impacted everything about who I was and I don't fully understand that."

Holmes will return to the witness stand Tuesday when prosecutors will get their first chance to grill her under oath.

Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, Elizabeth Holmes, Criminal Fraud
Former Therano CEO Elizabeth Holmes testified Monday that former Theranos COO Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani would regularly call her incompetent, compared her to a "monkey flying a space ship," and other controlling things during their relationship. In this photo, Balwani leaves the Robert F. Peckham U.S. Federal Court on June 28, 2019 in San Jose, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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