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Founders of medical science upstart uBiome once likened to Theranos now indicted for, you guessed it, fraud • The Register

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Jessica Richman, 46, and Zachary Apte, 36, co-founders of San Francisco-based medical testing startup uBiome, have been indicted on civil and criminal charges for allegedly bilking investors out of $60m.

The SEC, America’s financial watchdog, charged the entrepreneurs with misrepresenting uBiome’s success by falsely claiming that the company’s diagnostic tests for fecal and vaginal microbiome samples were widely accepted by health insurance companies. The truth was anything but.

“uBiome’s purported success in generating revenue, however, was a sham,” the SEC’s civil complaint [PDF] in the Northenr District of California says. “It depended on duping doctors into ordering unnecessary tests and other improper practices that Richman and Apte directed and which, once discovered, led insurers to claw back their previous reimbursement payments to uBiome.”

The duo, who are fugitives and have not yet been arrested, also face more than 40 criminal charges brought by the US Justice Department, including conspiracy to commit securities fraud and health care fraud, money laundering, and aggravated identity theft, among others.

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“The indictment alleges defendants bilked insurance providers with fraudulent reimbursement requests, a practice that inevitably would result in higher premiums for us all,” said Acting US Attorney Stephanie Hind in a statement. “Further, defendants cashed out on the investment that flowed into the company to benefit themselves.”

During the time it was operational, from its founding in 2012 until an FBI raid and bankruptcy in 2019, uBiome was likened to Theranos, a comparison that now seems even more apt with top execs at both companies – Elizabeth Holmes and Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani of Theranos; and Richman and Apte of uBiome – fighting federal fraud charges in court.

Initially, uBiome offered its “Gut Explorer” test directly to consumers, who would mail a fecal sample to a lab and get a report “as a way to get a better understanding of what was going on in one’s gut,” the DoJ complaint explains.

Initially priced at less than $100, the test wasn’t marketed as a diagnostic or medical tool. Rather, it was positioned as a way to help people understand more about the bacteria in their gut. According to the feds, Apte and Richman realized by 2014 that selling to the consumer market wouldn’t generate the revenue needed to keep the company going, so they determined their company should develop clinical tests for medical professionals, paid for by insurers.

By November, 2015, the company was submitting claims for its test, renamed “SmartGut,” which saw version 2.0 and 3.0 releases in 2017 and 2018. uBiome also developed a vaginal microbe test, called “SmartJane,” in late 2017. For its tests, the testing biz charged insurance companies around $2,970 each.

Apte and Richman, according to the Justice Department, devised and implemented various fraudulent practices to dupe healthcare providers and insurance companies into paying for tests that were not validated or medically necessary. They’re said to have falsified documents and concealed material facts from insurance providers to protect their fraudulent billing scheme.

The government’s legal filings offer no indication about whether either defendant yet has legal representation, though they note that Apte in June, 2019, deposited $2m to an Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) to fund future legal needs. ®

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I can’t charge my electric car cheaply because I’m too close to an RAF base | Money

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A few months ago I decided to switch energy supplier and moved to Octopus Energy’s Go tariff, principally because it offers cheap electric car charging overnight at a rate of 5p/kWh.

I applied to have the required smart meter installed. But after being given a date, I was later declined on the basis that smart meters cannot work at my address because they interfere with the missile early warning system at RAF Fylingdales.

Initially, I thought this was a joke. I have been involved with the construction of hundreds of new homes in Teesside, all of which have had smart meters installed.

Smart Energy GB, the body responsible for the rollout, has confirmed that this is very real, and smart meters installed in the area will not have had their smart capacity turned on.

I was told that a new meter is being worked upon and will eventually replace those already installed.

Meanwhile, I am having to charge my car at a premium rate of 16.76p/kWh which is costing me about £26 more a week than it would be on the Go tariff.

AM, Guisborough

Given that your house is more than 20 miles from the RAF base in question, I, too, was amazed that this could be an issue, but it is – and also in other areas close to bases.

Smart Meter GB has confirmed this is the case and says it is working on a solution – a communications hub that will enable people living near sensitive RAF sites to use smart meters.

It says these will be offered to customers “in the coming months”.

It adds those in the affected area, who had already had smart meters installed should be able to have the hubs retrofitted.

Meanwhile, Octopus has come up with a solution for your problem. It has offered to add you to the trial of these new meters, which, in turn, will allow you to go on the Go tariff.

It says it hopes to install your new meter before Christmas. It has also said that if you get the log from your charging firm, showing how much electricity you have used for the car since the switch took place, it will retroactively apply the savings that you would have gained had the smart meter worked from the start – a generous offer.

We welcome letters but cannot answer individually. Email consumer.champions@theguardian.com or write to Guardian, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Include a phone number. Letters are subject to our terms: gu.com/letters-terms

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China’s Yutu rover spots ‘mysterious hut’ on far side of the Moon

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Cube-shaped object is probably just a rock. Yutu will check it out anyway

China’s Moon rover, Yutu 2, has sent images of a strangely geometric object.…

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Strikepay struck gold at National Startup Awards 2021

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Strikepay, founded by fintech entrepreneurs Oli Cavanagh and Charles Dowd, scooped the top award for its fast-growing cash-free tipping tech.

Irish fintech company Strikepay has scooped the top prize at this year’s National Startup Awards.

The start-up, previously called Strike, was founded in 2020 to enable cash-free tipping without the need for a payment terminal or a new app on a customer’s phone.

Its founders, fintech entrepreneurs Oli Cavanagh and Charles Dowd, raised €625,000 in seed funding earlier this year and said they intended to seek a further €6.5m in investment by the end of 2021.

Strikepay has already begun acquiring and collaborating with other companies to bolster its product offering. In June, it acquired UK payments rival Gratsi and in April it appointed former Just Eat exec Edel Kinane as its chief growth officer.

Earlier in the year, it teamed up with Camile Thai Kitchen to enable contactless tipping for food delivery drivers and partnered with mobility company Bolt to bring its cashless tipping technology to taxis in Dublin.

Strikepay was one of several winners at the awards ceremony, which was livestreamed last night (2 December).

Other winners included health-tech start-up Stimul.ai, customer analysis tech business Glimpse, and sheep monitoring start-up Cotter Agritech, which has been participating in a new accelerator programme at University College Dublin.

As well as taking the top award, Strikepay also won Best Fintech Startup.

This year marked the 10th year of the National Startup Awards. The event was sponsored by Enterprise Ireland, Microfinance Ireland, Sage, Cronin Accountants and McCann Fitzgerald.

Last year’s top award was given to drone delivery service Manna. The start-up had been working with companies such as Tesco, Just Eat and Camile Thai to test its drones, and has seen further growth since then.

The full list of winners at the 2021 awards, in order of gold, silver and bronze, are:

Startup of the Year 2021

Strikepay

Early Stage Startup

Imvizar, CyberPie, The Fifth Dimension

Emerge Tech Startup

Xunison, Helgen Technologies, LiveCosts.com

Fintech Startup

Strikepay, ID-Pal, Itus Secure Technologies

Food and Drink Startup

Fiid, SiSú, Thanks Plants

Social or Sustainable Startup

Altra, Peer, Fifty Shades Greener

Product and Manufacturing Startup

Cotter Agritech, Orca Board, Filter

E-commerce and Retail Startup

FinalBend, The Book Resort, Nufields

Tech Startup

Glimpse, LegitFit, Examfly

Medtech Startup

Stumul.ai, SymPhysis Medical, Bonafi

Covid Pivot or Response Startup

Zoom Party/Find A Venue, KSH Group, Streat School

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