Defunct biotech corporation Theranos, whose founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was convicted of fraud and conspiracy, used the United States government’s H-1B visa program to employ dozens of foreign workers “akin to indentured servitude,” reports reveal.
This week, a federal grand jury convicted Holmes on three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud which include defrauding wealthy investors like the DeVos family out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Holmes, along with her partner and former boyfriend Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, had raked in billions in investments from 2003 to 2015 by claiming that Theranos’ nanotechnology could retrieve tiny blood samples from patients and test them for a myriad of illnesses and diseases.
Holmes’ alleged nanotechnology breakthrough that vowed to end the days of having to take large samples of blood from patients to run standard blood tests was hailed by the establishment media, former President Bill Clinton, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and wealthy investors who ranged from Henry Kissinger to Rupert Murdoch.
Former Wall Street Journal John Carreyrou cracked the case open in a series of reports at the time and his book titled Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup. In his book, Carreyrou detailed how Holmes and Balwani used the H-1B visa program to keep their employees quiet and compliant even as the fraud scheme unraveled:
The biggest problem of all was the dysfunctional corporate culture in which it was being developed. Elizabeth and Sunny regarded anyone who raised a concern or an objection as a cynic and a naysayer. Employees who persisted in doing so were usually marginalized or fired, while sycophants were promoted. Sunny had elevated a group of ingratiating Indians to key positions. One of them was Sam Anekal, the manager in charge of integrating the various components of the miniLab who had clashed with Ian Gibbons. Another was Chinmay Pangarkar, a bioengineer with a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara. There was also Suraj Saksena, a clinical chemist who had a Ph.D. in biochemistry and biophysics from Texas A&M. On paper, all three had impressive educational credentials, but they shared two traits: they had very little industry experience, having joined the company not long after finishing their studies, and they had a habit of telling Elizabeth and Sunny what they wanted to hear, either out of fear or out of desire to advance, or both. [Emphasis added]
For the dozens of Indians Theranos employed, the fear of being fired was more than just the dread of losing a paycheck. Most were on H-1B visas and dependent on their continued employment at the company to remain in the country. With a despotic boss like Sunny holding their fates in his hands, it was akin to indentured servitude. Sunny, in fact, had the master-servant mentality common among an older generation of Indian businessmen. Employees were his minions. He expected them to be at his disposal at all hours of the day or night and on weekends. He checked the security logs every morning to see when they badged in and out. Every evening, around seven thirty, he made a fly-by of the engineering department to make sure people were still at their desks working. [Emphasis added]
For years, Breitbart News has chronicled the abuses against white-collar American professionals as a result of the H-1B visa program. There are about 650,000 H-1B visa foreign workers in the U.S. at any given moment. Americans are often laid off in the process and forced to train their foreign replacements, as highlighted by Breitbart News.
At Theranos, Holmes and Balwani imported dozens of H-1B foreign visa workers, likely entirely from India, to take jobs as software development engineers, embedded systems engineers, and scientists, among other roles.
After remaining on H-1B visas, the foreign imports at Theranos could get sponsored for an employment-based green card but such a move would only be taken if the employees showed their loyalty to Holmes and Balwani’s operation, Carreyrou’s accounts indicate.
American computer scientist Philip Greenspun blogged about Theranos’ use of H-1B foreign visa workers, noting that the first round of hires of mostly American and British engineers and scientists were quickly replaced with an Indian H-1B visa workforce. Greenspun writes:
Bad Blood, the authoritative book on the rise and fall of Theranos, describes American- and British-born engineers and scientists being fired for saying “the goal is too ambitious” or quitting when realizing this. Who replaced them? According to the book, almost all immigrants from India, either folks who’d recently completed a degree in the U.S. or coming over on H-1B visas, all managed by Ramesh Balwani, Elizabeth Holmes’s boyfriend.
“During the ‘grand fraud’ stage of Theranos, therefore, it was a primarily immigrant show except for the young impresaria,” Greenspun notes.