After Elizabeth Holmes was convicted, Balwani was also found guilty on multiple counts of fraud.
When it comes to Theranos, convicted founder Elizabeth Holmes wasn’t the only one behind the decisions made and the fraud committed at the biotech startup hoping to revolutionize the healthcare industry with its groundbreaking blood-sampling machine. The other is Sunny Balwani, a wealthy businessman who eventually became the president and COO of his then-girlfriend’s company and was later portrayed by Naveen Andrews in Hulu’s true-crime series, The Dropout.
Following the fallout, Holmes was charged and convicted on multiple charges of fraud. Balwani, who was indicted on the same charges in 2018 and has since maintained his innocence, was also found guilty in court. Less than a year later, Holmes was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while the same judge ruled that he should spend 13 years behind bars.
Here’s what to remember about his relationship with Holmes, his time at Theranos and what Andrews has said about portraying him onscreen.
Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos
Balwani, 37 years old and married at the time, first met Holmes in 2002, when she was 18 right before she started attending Stanford University. Their relationship didn’t become romantic until years later, in 2005, soon after Holmes founded Theranos.
By September 2009, Balwani joined the company, first running day-to-day operations as its president. A year later, Theranos had collected more than $92 million in venture capital, making Holmes an instant star of Silicon Valley as her fortune and investments in the company continued to rise. From then until 2016, Balwani continued to work behind the scenes as a member of the company’s board of directors and as its chief operating officer.
Balwani reportedly also influenced the increased paranoia and protection of secrets around the office, with increased security and division among staff. According to John Carreyrou’s popular 2018 book, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, he was described as overbearing and overly concerned with corporate espionage taking place within Theranos’ ranks.
During that time, Balwani and Holmes never disclosed their romantic relationship to the company’s investors.
As Theranos’ popularity continued to rise, so did the scrutiny of its medical claims and business practices. By 2018, after several reports of inaccurate medical data and several lawsuits, the authorities got involved. Balwani and Holmes’ relationship, meanwhile, ended two years prior in 2016, when things in the company first started to collapse.
Charges and Subsequent Trial
After initially being charged together, the court ordered that Holmes and Balwani stand trial separately, with the former convicted on four charges of fraud in January 2022. In total, Balwani, now 57, is charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and nine charges of wire fraud related to his time at Theranos.
At the end of March 2022, after several delays due to the pandemic, and the ability to find a jury that had not seen The Dropout on Hulu, Balwani’s trial began. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, with his lawyer arguing that he did not start the company nor did he control it. The prosecution, meanwhile, is claiming that Balwani and Holmes “were partners in everything, including their crimes.”
After a lengthy trial and four full days of deliberation, the jury determined that Balwani was guilty of all 12 criminal fraud charges brought against him. Expected to be sentenced in December, each wire fraud charge could lead up to 20 years max in prison. Additionally, the conspiracy charges carry a maximum of five years.
His Portrayal on 'The Dropout'
While showrunner Elizabeth Meriwether incorporated many revelations from Holmes’ trial into the eight-part series adapted from the ABC News investigative podcast of the same name, there is no depiction of abuse between the two. The relationship, certainly fraught at times, is the backbone of the series about an ambitious entrepreneur who believed her own lies.
In fact, Andrews, who appears opposite Amanda Seyfried as Holmes, told ET, “We already made a decision very early on, on day one actually, about the depth and the intensity of their relationship. I felt as though he was besotted with her. And for me, there’s a romantic aspect to the story, which is, ‘How far are you prepared to go if you love someone?’”
For Andrews and Seyfried, it was also important to demonstrate that relationship, which first started out as a friendship before turning romantic. From the outside, “people didn’t seem to understand why and it’s just like, ‘Love finds a way.’ But really there was an innocence to their meeting,” Seyfried said of them finding common ground, which largely focused on aspirations of making it in Silicon Valley, and “feeling safe with each other.”
That said, this is a show about the rise and fall of a company, which not only defrauded investors but many patients as well. And the series depicts the many accusations of paranoia and deceit allegedly conducted by Balwani at the time.
Despite that, “I believe their intentions were good. The idea was good. And somewhere along the way, something happened and they crossed into uncharted territory, which is hard to define,” Andrews said, explaining that he and Seyfried wanted to portray the former couple as “human beings without judgment.”
Of course, now, given what has come out about the two, Andrews does have one question for Balwani. “I would want to ask him, ‘Do you truly believe that she loved you?'" the actor shared.