The Tragedy of Elizabeth Holmes

Former Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was sentenced today to more than 11 years in prison, two years more than a probation officer had recommended but nine years less than the maximum amount specified in federal guidelines.

Holmes’s lawyers had asked for a sentence of home confinement and community service and no more than 18 months in prison, while prosecutors were seeking a 15-year prison sentence to send a message to potential wrongdoers.

Holmes does not have to report to prison for five months, and her lawyers will almost certainly appeal the sentence, but if her lawyers are unsuccessful, her 135 month prison term will be a tough road to hoe. Holmes and her partner have a young son, and she is currently pregnant. 

In a statement to the court, Holmes said, “I stand before you taking responsibility for Theranos.” Still, Holmes did not explicitly acknowledge the fraud that she had perpetrated nor the lives of Theranos patients that she put at risk. 

Before sentencing Holmes, Judge Edward Davila talked about letters he had received from venture capitalists in support of Holmes. Although these VCs reminded Davila that failure in Silicon Valley was not uncommon, “[T]hey didn’t endorse failure by fraud,” Judge Davila said. “Those letter writers did not condone misrepresentation and manipulation.”

Davila explained that he didn’t give Holmes the maximum sentence because he didn’t believe her main objective was to enrich herself.  

“The tragedy in this case is that Ms. Holmes is brilliant,” he concluded.

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