Elizabeth Holmes is a Scapegoat — Even If She’s Guilty
Our desire for quick justice can make us pounce on the most visible actors
The criminal trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood-testing startup Theranos, began last week. As the trial drew near, I had a foreboding feeling that games would be played with the ideas of victim and victimizer — games that would leave many people, possibly even including the jury, confused about how to apply the law.
Understanding the sociological mechanisms that influence our perception of guilt has been my key work over the past several years. That’s why I was particularly interested when I heard from someone who had been involved in two separate lawsuits with Holmes—someone who understood the complex dynamics at work, and who was willing to cut through the popular narratives shaped by the media.
I met John Fuisz at The Berliner, an industrial-looking beer hall on the Potomac in Georgetown. We sat dry under the Whitehurst Freeway drinking beers while the rain from former hurricane Ida pummeled the street on either side.
Fuisz is a former patent attorney; he was a primary source for John Carreyrou of the Wall Street Journal in his investigation of the medical technology company Theranos. As the public knows well by now, Carreyrou uncovered a massive scandal that sent the company’s $10 billion valuation to zero practically overnight, after it became apparent that the company’s major claims about its technology were false — and also after it had raised $700 million from investors. Its wunderkind CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, now 37, is on criminal trial on two counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and ten counts of wire fraud. If convicted, Holmes faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and restitution to victims, which include medical patients and investors. Opening statements began last week at the Federal Courthouse in San Jose.
Our mimetic nature is what allowed Holmes to raise more than $700 million from investors; they imitated the desires of others they respected, neglecting to do proper due diligence… and to converge on the one person to blame…