Thursday, July 7, 2022

Theranos Trial: Pakistan-born Indian-American Tech Exec Convicted of Fraud

In yet another blow to Silicon Valley's "fake it till you make it" mantra, a federal jury has convicted former Theranos executive Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani on all 12 counts of fraud. Balwani was born in 1965 in Pakistan to a Sindhi Hindu family.  He attended Aitchison College, an elite prep school in Lahore that is also the alma mater of former Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan. His family emigrated to India in 1984 and then to the United States in 1987. He studied at the University of Texas at Austin and University of California at Berkeley. His one-time girlfriend and partner Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, was convicted on similar charges earlier this year. Both face up to 20 years in prison. 

Elizabeth Holmes (L) and Sunny Balwani of Theranos

"Fake it till you make it" is a well-known phrase in Silicon Valley. It means to consciously cultivate an attitude, feeling, or perception of competence that you don't currently have by pretending you do until it becomes true.  Holmes and Balwani claimed to have developed a proprietary blood-testing technology to produce results with just a few drops of blood from a finger prick, eliminating the need for large needles and vials of blood. They used this false claim to defraud unsuspecting investors, including VCs, of more than a billion US dollars. 

Balwani, 57, ran the company’s lab, where the blood testing occurred, and was quick to rebuff and sometimes fire employees who raised concerns about the performance of Theranos technology, prosecutors and witnesses said. He was responsible for the financial models given to investors that greatly exaggerated revenue, prosecutors said, and he managed the company’s partnership with Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc., in which the startup would offer its finger-prick tests inside the drugstore chain, according to the Wall Street Journal

Balwani is a technology industry veteran. He has worked in the software industry, including at Lotus Software and Microsoft Corp., but much of his wealth is derived from, an e-commerce startup that was acquired by CommerceOne, led by Pakistani-American entrepreneur Asim Abdullah, for $228 million. Karachi-born Asim Abdullah now owns the fashion house of Emmanuel Ungaro. 

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Shams said...

I have some attorney friends who have followed the Holmes trial very closely. Holmes was convicted of only half the charges, not all. Balwani has been convicted of all 12.

It is amazing that veteran multi-billionaire investors like Larry Ellison, Rupert Murdoch, and the Waltons gave Holmes hundreds of millions of dollars without any due diligence whatsoever.

Holmes is the prettiest Silicon Valley genie that ever existed. The old fart investors fell for her looks without questioning her scientific intellect, if there was any. During her trial, even the jurors spent nearly all the time looking at her face rather than the evidence the prosecutors presented. Judge Ed Davilla, himself a latino, kept drooling throughout the trial and didn't take time to sternly reprimand the jurors for their gazing. So Holmes got off easy - only half the charges, and only the weak charges for that matter.

She is 38 and during her trial she married an extremely rich 27 year old whose baby she just had. With that baby, and with her husband's connections, there isn't a chance she will spend a day in jail.

They already have a TV series "The Dropout" with Amanda Seyfried, plus a movie with Jennifer Lawrence (below). Holmes will collect many millions from that. The movie producers' biggest challenge has been to find an actress pretty enough to play the role, but Jennifer Lawrence (below) came close, though still no cigar, according to director Adam Mckay.

Bilal said...

these two will be going to "club-Fed" white collar prison and be out in 5 years based on recognizance and good behavior. They will get tired of chef-cooked meals and playing tennis every day.

But fret not, they have stashed away hundreds of millions already. They are SET for life.

Riaz Haq said...

Indian American accused in $45 million fraud scheme

Authorities arrested a 50-year-old Indian American tech entrepreneur accusing him of defrauding more than 10,000 victims of over $45 million in an investment fraud scheme, the American Bazaar reported.

Suspect Neil Chandran is from Las Vegas Nevada, but was arrested in Los Angeles, California.

According to the Department of Justice, officers arrested him on June 29 after unsealing a previously sealed indictment from a federal grand jury in Nebraska on June 14.

Chandran owned multiple technology companies and according to the indictment used those companies in the investment fraud scheme. He is alleged to have falsely promised “extremely high returns on the premise that one or more of his companies, operated under the banner of ‘ViRSE’, was about to be acquired by a consortium of wealthy buyers.”

Chandran’s companies include, but are not limited to Free Vi Lab; Studio Vi, Inc.; ViDelivery, Inc.; ViMarket, Inc.; and Skalex USA Inc.

The indictment also alleges that Chandran caused two other individuals to make “various materially false and misleading representations to investors.”

He’s accused of promising investors in his companies would “would soon receive extremely high returns when one or more of those companies was purchased by a group of wealthy buyers.

“Investor funds would be used for normal expenses to keep the companies operating until they were purchased and prominent business figures, including two notable billionaires, were involved in the purchase,” the indictment said.

According to the indictment “there was no such buyer group that was about to purchase the companies for the claimed returns; a substantial portion of the funds were misappropriated for other business ventures and the personal benefit” of Chandran and others and “the two notable billionaires were not involved in purchasing Chandran’s companies.”

With these funds they are alleged to have purchased luxury cars and real estate.

The indictment also alleges that 100 different assets including “bank accounts, real estate, and luxury vehicles (39 Tesla vehicles) are subject to forfeiture as proceeds of the fraud. U.S. Marshals and the FBI are seizing most of the assets pending resolution of the criminal case.”

Chandran has been charged with three counts of wire fraud and two counts of monetary transactions in unlawful proceeds. If convicted Chandran faces up to 20 years in prison per wire fraud count and up to 10 years for each count of unlawful monetary transactions.

The FBI Washington Field Office is still investigating the case with the help of the FBI’s Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, and Omaha field offices.

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Riaz Haq said...

Former Goldman Sachs Banker Charged in Insider-Trading Scheme
Brijesh Goel is one of nine defendants charged by Manhattan federal prosecutors in four insider-trading cases

A former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. vice president was charged in an insider-trading scheme in which he allegedly profited by tipping off a close friend to confidential information about coming mergers and acquisitions connected to the bank.

Federal prosecutors accused Brijesh Goel of relaying information from internal Goldman communications about potential takeovers the firm was considering financing. Mr. Goel’s friend traded on the tips, typically using a relative’s brokerage account to buy call options that would become profitable if the stock price of a company targeted for acquisition rose, according to an indictment.

Mr. Goel was one of nine defendants charged in four unrelated insider-trading cases announced Monday by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. All of the cases involved the alleged use of nonpublic information about mergers and acquisitions. The other defendants included a former congressman, a former FBI trainee and technology-company executives.

“We are keenly interested in sending a message that insider trading is still around, we are still around, and we are going to enforce it when we find it,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference Monday.

The four schemes collectively resulted in millions of dollars in illegal profits, prosecutors said. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which filed parallel civil charges, said three of the cases originated from an enforcement unit that uses electronic databases to detect suspicious trading patterns.

Prosecutors charged Mr. Goel with securities fraud. They also alleged that Mr. Goel, who left Goldman in 2021, sought to obstruct a grand jury investigation into the scheme by deleting electronic communications between him and the friend.

A lawyer for Mr. Goel didn’t respond to a request for comment.

A Goldman spokeswoman said the bank is cooperating with the Justice Department and the SEC.

“The 2017 and 2018 insider trading alleged by the government is egregious and illegal conduct,” the spokeswoman said. “The firm condemns such behavior, which violates our standards of conduct and business principles.”

Mr. Goel most recently worked at Apollo Global Management Inc. An Apollo spokeswoman said the firm learned of the allegations against Mr. Goel on Monday and immediately placed him on indefinite leave.

Mr. Goel and the friend often discussed confidential information over games of squash, and made about $280,000 illegally, according to the indictment. Prosecutors said the information was used to make trades tied to at least seven deals involving companies including Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., T-Mobile US Inc. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc.

In a separate case, prosecutors charged former Rep. Stephen Buyer, a Republican who represented districts in Indiana from 1993 through 2011, with four counts of securities fraud. While doing consulting work after he left Congress, Mr. Buyer engaged in insider trading in connection with two different mergers, prosecutors said.

In one, Mr. Buyer provided consulting services to T-Mobile, which in 2018 publicly announced it would merge with Sprint Corp. Mr. Buyer learned of confidential information about the merger from a T-Mobile government-affairs executive, according to the indictment. The indictment also said that the unnamed executive and Mr. Buyer spoke on the phone and played golf immediately before the former congressman purchased Sprint stock.

Andrew Goldstein, a lawyer for Mr. Buyer, said his client was innocent. “His stock trades were lawful,” Mr. Goldstein said. “He looks forward to being quickly vindicated.”

A T-Mobile spokeswoman said the company cooperated with the government’s investigation.

Riaz Haq said...

Elizabeth Holmes Is Sentenced to More Than 11 Years for Fraud
Ms. Holmes was convicted in January of four counts of wire fraud for deceiving investors with claims about her blood testing start-up Theranos.

The sentence capped a yearslong saga that has captivated the public and ignited debates about Silicon Valley’s culture of hype and exaggeration. Ms. Holmes, who raised $945 million for Theranos and promised that the start-up would revolutionize health care with tests that required just a few drops of blood, was convicted in January of four counts of wire fraud for deceiving investors with those claims, which turned out not to be true.

Judge Edward J. Davila of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California sentenced Ms. Holmes to 135 months in prison, which is slightly more than 11 years, followed by three years of supervised release. Ms. Holmes, 38, who plans to appeal the verdict, must surrender to custody on April 27, 2023.

In the courtroom on Friday, Ms. Holmes — who appeared with a large group of friends and family, including her parents and her partner, Billy Evans — cried when she read a statement to the judge.

“I am devastated by my failings,” she said. “I have felt deep pain for what people went through because I failed them.”

Ms. Holmes, who has a 1-year-old son and is pregnant with her second child, apologized to the investors, patients and employees of Theranos. She said she had tried to realize her dream too quickly and do too many things at once. She ended with a quotation from the poet Rumi and a promise to do good in the world in the future.

Though federal sentencing guidelines for wire fraud of the size that Ms. Holmes was convicted of recommend a maximum of 20 years in prison, a probation officer assigned to the case proposed nine years. Her lawyers had asked for just 18 months of house arrest, while prosecutors sought 15 years and $804 million in restitution for 29 investors.

Prosecutors had urged Judge Davila to consider the message that her case would send to the world. In court filings, they wrote that a long sentence for Ms. Holmes was important to “deter future start-up fraud schemes” and “rebuild the trust investors must have when funding innovators.”

Jeffrey Cohen, an associate professor at Boston College Law School and a former federal prosecutor, said it was somewhat surprising for a sentence to go beyond a probation report’s recommendation, but the high-profile nature of Ms. Holmes’s case had made it a symbol. The sentence also showed that courts take fraud seriously, he added.