Every good scammer needs a wingman, and former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes’ was ex-boyfriend Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani. The former COO of Theranos is, like Holmes, under intense public scrutiny — as well as federal investigation by U.S. authorities — for his part in one of the greatest medical scandals of our time. But who is Ramesh, what part did he play in Holmes’ scam, and what is he doing now that his life is about to become entertainment fodder by the way of two Elizabeth Holmes documentaries, a podcast, and a feature film? Here's everything you need to know about the man you’re bound to hear more about in the coming year. Born in 1965 — making him 19 years Holmes’ senior — Balwani and the wannabe tech wunderkind met in 2002 while on a trip to Beijing as part of Stanford's Mandarin program.
Prior to that he worked at Microsoft and Lotus, and made a bundle selling stocks in the days leading up to the dot com bubble of the early aughts. Balwani was a married grad student at Berkeley while Holmes was a year out from dropping out of Stanford to start Theranos. But Balwani didn’t join Theranos until 2009, quickly rising up the ranks from vice president to Chief Operating Officer, despite his lack of experience in biomedical engineering, medical technology, or biological science (he was a computer science undergrad with a business degree from UC Berkeley). Several sources, according to Wall Street Journal investigative journalist John Carreyrou’s book on the subject, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, categorized Balwani as the demanding, angry muscle to Holmes’ mission.
Not even keeping their intimate relationship — something they kept a secret from everyone, including board members — could keep their love alive when the FDA, FBI, and CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) came a-calling, though: when things got tough, Holmes allegedly fired Balwani from her professional and personal life. (Balwani claims that he left of his own accord, however.) So what’s Balwani’s deal now? Well, after leaving from Theranos in 2016, CMS regulators banned Balwani from owning or operating a blood laboratory following an inspection of Theranos’ Newark, California, laboratory in March 2016 showed numerous issues went unfixed.
Things got worse from there. In March 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed four claims against him for violating the U.S. Securities Act when he lied to and purposefully misled investors and the public in order to secure additional funding for the company. And in June 2018, a federal grand jury indicted both Holmes and Balwani on nine counts of wire fraud, as well as two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for knowingly distributing blood tests with falsified results.
In the end, however, Balwani’s part in the Theranos scam was not that of mastermind, but the day-to-day implementer of Holmes’ outsized vision. According to his counsel, Balwani was a victim of Holmes as well; they assert that the COO truly believed in the company and tried to bring in medical professionals to fill in gaps he and other leaders at the company did not have, to no avail. And though Balwani isn’t in jail and hasn’t said anything about Holmes publicly, yet, it's fairly certain there will be more to this story as 2019 scams on.