“Really smart people picked off Mado. Not you” is the kind of muttering Elizabeth Holmes regularly jotted down during her tenure as the founder and former CEO of Theranos. But like, presumably, Bernard Madoff, Holmes was also picked off and brought down, spectacularly.
Holmes was sentenced today to 135 months, or 11.25 years in prison after having been found guilty in federal court on four of the eleven counts she was charged with: one count of investor wire fraud conspiracy and three wire fraud counts relating to a scheme to defraud investors. The verdict had been delivered on January 3, 2022. Holmes will also be fined and ordered to pay restitution, at a later date.
Uncovering Key Evidence in the Theranos Civil Litigation
Holmes’s ‘Mado’ note and other questionably inspirational thoughts were unearthed from a mountain of documents during the civil litigation against Theranos, over alleged securities law violations by the company. That lawsuit, which predated Holmes’s prosecution by two years, was one of the first legal actions to follow ground-breaking reports alleging widespread fraud and deception by the blood-testing company that was once the golden child of Silicon Valley. In fact, Everlaw won the 2022 Legalweek Leaders in Tech Award for its pivotal role in the Theranos civil litigation.
Attendees of the recent Everlaw Summit got to hear first-hand how this explosive note was pinpointed, starting at the very beginning. Keynote speaker and author John Carreyrou kicked off the Summit by sharing the story of how he, then a journalist at The Wall Street Journal, blew open the gleaming façade of Theranos to expose the fraud inside.
Carreyrou was joined on stage by Reed Kathrein, the partner at Hagens Berman who led the civil securities fraud litigation against Theranos, and an Everlaw user. Kathrein detailed how he found Holmes’s iconic ‘note to self’:
More than a million documents were dumped, and the first thing we did was download them onto the Everlaw system, which then gave us the ability to start reviewing and peeking under the hood. By putting [the documents] into Everlaw, we were able to have quick access to everything.”
Kathrein then described how Everlaw’s intuitive platform allowed him to easily navigate the massive tranche of documents:
I’ll go in when it’s quiet at night, and start hunting and pecking around. I was looking at anything that was in the Holmes file, and I get this one document where it appears she is talking to herself. It’s just a list of thoughts. I thought, ‘This is interesting! There must be more notes in here.’
I looked up in the corner and there’s a path to where this document is kept, the metadata that comes with these digital files, and so I clicked on the path and all of a sudden, boom!, all the documents in that path opened up. There were about 40 documents, and they were all notes to herself.”
One of the notes was Holmes’s infamous “Mado” musing. Kathrein printed it out and used it when deposing Holmes. “I had the opportunity to ask her about [the Mado note], but unfortunately she took the Fifth,” Kathrein said. “But we had a huge back and forth.”
“Catch Me If You Can”
Carreyrou had highlighted this tension in his podcast about Theranos, Bad Blood: The Final Chapter. Recalling the episode on stage at Everlaw Summit, he said to Kathrein, “There’s a video of this [deposition], and as you guys are sparring, there’s a thin smile that forms on her lips as you spar with her attorney. It’s tempting to think that she was taunting you, ‘Catch me if you can.’”
The “Mado” note was not introduced as evidence into Holmes’s federal trial, so we may never know what she meant. But in closing out his conversation with Kathrein, Carreyrou maintained, “It’s still cryptic, and she could have denied it, but personally, I think ‘Mado’ means Madoff, and she was comparing herself to the guy who had run the biggest Ponzi scheme in the history of the world.”
While her sentence of 11.25 years in jail is nowhere near the 150 years Bernie Madoff received, the fall of Theranos and Elizabeth Holmes is sure to become a landmark legal case and a cautionary tale.
Learn more about Carreyrou, Holmes, and the role technology played in helping make the case against Theranos here.