Elizabeth Holmes’s trial is over. Here’s what the future could hold for the founder convicted of fraud.
Elizabeth Holmes was found guilty of criminal fraud on Monday evening, and unless she wins her case on appeal, she will likely be sentenced to prison time.
The 37-year-old founder of the failed blood testing company, Theranos, faced 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for allegedly lying about the effectiveness of her company’s technology to raise money and public interest. She was found guilty on four counts, and faces up to 20 years in prison and a $3 million fine, although it is unlikely she will spend that much time behind bars.
“I suspect she may get five to seven years in prison,” Justin Paperny, founder of federal prison consultancy White Collar Advice, told Fortune.
Holmes’ trial included nearly four months of testimony, 32 witness accounts, and several days of jury deliberation. Even then, the jury did not reach a verdict on three counts, and Holmes was found not guilty of three more charges.
So what will the future look like for Holmes? Paperny, who himself served an 18-month sentence for a single count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and who now works with people in similar situations, walked us through the process.
As a federal prisoner, Holmes would be eligible for a 15% reduction in her sentence for good behavior, but other than that, early release options in the federal system are very limited.
“There is no real mechanism to really aggressively advance your release date in federal prison,” said Paperny.
But that doesn’t mean that Holmes will be going to prison soon, either. She’ll likely appeal to a higher court and could remain free while that appeal is pending. Paperny says that could take as long as 18 months. If that appeal goes south, she’ll be asked to turn herself in.
Holmes will likely be sent to a low-security prison, often referred to as Club Fed, because the crimes for which she was convicted were nonviolent and white collar. Paperny predicted that she could end up in Alderson, West Virginia, where Martha Stewart served her five-month term for lying about a stock sale. That would mean no fences plus a swimming pool, volleyball, softball, tennis, racquetball, and even roller skating. Another option is a prison camp in Dublin, California. The prison, which is in the Bay Area, is where Felicity Huffman spent time for her role in the college admissions scandal. Amenities include a sundeck and tennis courts. They also have craft activities like crochet, watercolor painting, and origami.
But while activities and amenities abound, there’s no denying the fact that Holmes will still be imprisoned. She will remain confined in her cell during evening hours, will have set visiting hours, and her meals will be predetermined, as will her prison job. If she takes a fork or even an apple from the dining hall she could end up in solitary confinement.
“It’s going to be difficult; it’s going to be hard. She’s going to be around people who have been in prison for 20 years, and especially during COVID she could go months without visiting her family,” said Paperny.
Holmes’s celebrity status will also change the nature of her potential prison stay, as other prisoners will likely know who she is. Some of those prisoners will seek to lionize her while others will attempt to exploit her, said Paperny. He says he tells his celebrity clients that they’re stepping into an environment that people have lived in for years and that it would be wise to understand the environment before attempting to manipulate it and to recognize that they will struggle.
Imprisoned people at low-security facilities have plenty of time to exercise, read, and write. Some people write full books while they’re behind bars. Paperny says a number of his clients maintain websites with blogs while they’re imprisoned—some even continue to run small businesses.
“She can write her memoir, she can teach, she can read, and she can educate herself,” said Paperny. “Or she can sit in the TV room all day and complain, the choice is hers.”
If she does go to prison, Holmes needs to do everything she can to prepare herself for life afterward, said Paperny. Once freed, she won’t be able to as easily rely on the skills and connections that led her to prison in the first place. She’ll need to start anew. “The point is if you want it, and you’re willing to create a new record, the sky’s the limit. It’s a chance to recalibrate and refocus to prepare for the next phase,” he said.
If she doesn’t recalibrate, Holmes risks letting her prison term become a life sentence of arrested development. She’ll need to be able to overcome the stigma and be willing to accept that her old life is over. It takes courage and humility to accept a job after serving a prison sentence that looks a lot different from your previous one, according to Paperny, who went from being a stockbroker to answering phones at a call center.
“The key is not letting your sentence be one minute longer than the government gives you,” he said. “Too many people don’t prepare. They don’t reflect or introspect or work to grow a new network or develop new skills. The consequences of a felony conviction are devastating. We talk about second chances in this country, but employment- and reputation-wise, they’re very difficult to overcome. If someone doesn’t have a very concrete clear plan, it’s impossible.”
Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.