Elizabeth Holmes Accuses Ex-boyfriend and Theranos Executive of Coercive Control and Abuse

Elizabeth Holmes is back in the spotlight. Newly unsealed documents show that the disgraced Theranos founder plans to testify that her ex-boyfriend and Theranos executive was emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abusive. Her trial is set to begin in days; the claims are intended to provide an explanation for her involvement in a massive fraud case. 

Elizabeth Holmes and her ex boyfriend are accused of a massive multi-million dollar fraud scheme

Elizabeth Holmes in chair
Elizabeth Holmes | Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair

For the uninitiated, Holmes and her ex-boyfriend and Theranos COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani are accused of defrauding investors, doctors, and patients over a five year span starting in 2010 with a too-good-to-be-true proposition. 

Theranos promised ambitious blood testing services that would revolutionize the healthcare industry and change lives. 

Elizabeth Holmes and Balwani are each facing 10 counts of federal wire fraud and an additional 2 counts of conspiring to commit wire fraud. They’ve pleaded not guilty, but quarter-million dollar fines and 20 years in prison are a possible end result for the former couple. 

A 2019 HBO documentary called The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley detailed Holmes’ intricate bid for worldwide fame and dominance, and rapid descent into disgrace after a 2015 Wall Street Journal investigation exposed gaping holes in the company’s capabilities. 

Elizabeth Holmes’ defense includes formal accusations of abuse by Balwani

According to NPR, Holmes plans to defend herself at the trial beginning August 31 by disclosing extreme abuse at the hands of Balwani. 

According to a newly unsealed 79-page filing by Elizabeth Holmes’ legal team, the former top executive had a tight grip of control over what Holmes ate, who she associated with, and even what she wore. Phone calls and texts were rigorously monitored, the documents state, and Balwani threw sharp objects at her. If she displeased him, he withdrew affection. 

“Ms. Holmes plans to introduce evidence that Mr. Balwani verbally disparaged her and withdrew ‘affection if she displeased him’; controlled what she ate, how she dressed, how much money she could spend, who she could interact with — essentially dominating her and erasing her capacity to make decisions,” the documents state in part. 

“This pattern of abuse and coercive control continued over the approximately decade-long duration of Ms. Holmes and Mr. Balwani’s relationship, including during the period of the charged conspiracies,” wrote Holmes’ lawyers. 

Elizabeth Holmes is also expected to explain the “reasons why she believed, relied on, and deferred to Mr. Balwani,” read the filing in part. 

Holmes will be arguing that she was influenced to the point that she was unable to make decisions for herself. According to the documents, Balwani controlled her by “dominating her and erasing her capacity to make decisions.”

A psychologist and expert in intimate partner abuse is expected to testify as to the validity of Holmes’ claims. 

Balwani denies abusing the Theranos founder

For his part, Balwani categorically denies the claims, calling them “deeply offensive.” 

In Balwani’s documents, attorney Jeffrey Coopersmith said Holmes’ claims are “salacious and inflammatory.” He also wrote that the bombshell accusations are “devastating” to Balwani. 

“Ms. Holmes’ allegations are deeply offensive to Mr. Balwani, devastating personally to him,” Coopersmith wrote.

Holmes’ accusations come at a watershed moment for abused women. The rapid rise of the Me Too and Times Up movements following the 2017 New York Times exposé of Harvey Weinstein have changed the legal landscape for women, making a rare defense based on abuse more legally palatable. 

Time will tell if it works for Elizabeth Holmes. 

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