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SCAT RACKET: Fugitive Fraudsters Behind ‘Poop Theranos’ Startup Are Democratic Donors

• March 25, 2021 1:20 pm

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The Democratic donors who founded poop-testing startup uBiome are on the run from federal authorities after being charged with a litany of fraud charges.

Jessica Richman, 46, and Zachary Apte, 36, cofounders and co-chief executives of the now-defunct company, are accused of bilking insurance providers out of millions of dollars for invalid, unreliable, or medically unnecessary tests, as well as for falsifying documents and defrauding their investors. They are currently fugitives from justice and may face decades in prison if convicted.

Apte has donated almost $35,000 to Democratic candidates and committees since 2015, including $2,965 to failed candidate Beto O'Rourke. Richman donated $250 to Hillary Clinton's failed presidential campaign in 2016. Most recently, Apte gave $750 to then-senator Kamala Harris (D., Calif.) in early 2019, several weeks before the FBI raided uBiome's offices. Neither has given any money to Republican candidates or committees.

Richman and Apte, who married in 2019, were pushed out at uBiome soon after the FBI raid. Several months later, the company filed for bankruptcy and sold off most of its assets before shutting down completely in October 2019.

The company's collapse has drawn comparisons to the downfall of Theranos, the blood-testing service founded by Elizabeth Holmes that was once valued at $10 billion before dissolving in 2018 amid allegations of "massive fraud."

Like Theranos, uBiome won high praise for its efforts to disrupt the health care industry. At its peak in 2018, the company was valued at $600 million, and Richman received an "innovator" award from Goop, the wellness conglomerate founded by actress Gwyneth Paltrow.

Founded in 2012 as a direct-to-consumer testing service called "Gut Explorer," uBiome raised tens of millions of dollars from investors, including a number of prominent Silicon Valley venture capital firms. In the early days, customers would submit a fecal sample for microbiome analysis. The service eventually grew to include testing for vaginal microbiomes, among others.

In a 33-page indictment handed down last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Richman and Apte "painted a false picture of uBiome as a rapidly growing company with a strong track record of reliable revenue through health insurance reimbursements for its tests." The company's "purported success," however, "was a sham."

What was once seen as the couple's crowning achievement has turned into a giant mess. Now they're on the run from justice, hoping to avoid spending the rest of their lives in the can for poop fraud.