Elizabeth Holmes in more disruptive times, back in 2015.
Elizabeth Holmes in more disruptive times, back in 2015.

Image: Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty

Disruption comes in many forms. For Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, it may end up taking the form of a jail cell. 

The 34-year old Stanford dropout has been charged by federal prosecutors with 11 counts alleging she defrauded her investors and patients. 

It was just a few months ago that Holmes, who once promised to revolutionize blood testing, was also charged with fraud by the SEC. In that case she agreed to pay a $500,000 penalty. 

Holmes’s supposed shady dealings were first highlighted in 2015 by Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou, who poked holes in Theranos’ claims with a devastating series of stories concerning the company’s Edison blood-testing device. 

Essentially, Carreyrou found that the Edison didn’t work as advertised — if it even worked at all. This was a big deal, as Theranos had already placed Edisons in around 40 Walgreens pharmacies

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The latest charges against Holmes and former Theranos president Ramesh Balwani were brought by the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco. 

“Holmes and Balwani engaged in a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud investors,” according to the press release announcing the charges, “and a separate scheme to defraud doctors and patients.” For those keeping score, that’s 9 federal counts of wire fraud and two federal counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

If found guilty, Holmes and Balwani face up to 20 years in prison. That’s in addition to fines of $250,000 for every count of wire fraud and each count of conspiracy — not counting restitution. 

The punishment sounds heavy, but so does the alleged nature of the crime — potentially putting people’s lives at risk with inaccurate blood test results. 

“This indictment alleges a corporate conspiracy to defraud financial investors,” FBI Special Agent John F. Bennett says in the release. “This conspiracy misled doctors and patients about the reliability of medical tests that endangered health and lives.” 

Holmes was once hailed as the “next Steve Jobs,” and at one point had a personal worth estimated at $4.5 billion according to Forbes.

Now she looks set to go down in history as one of the most devastating examples of Silicon Valley hubris.  

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