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Nikola founder Trevor Milton stands trial on fraud fees


CEO and founding father of U.S. Nikola, Trevor Milton speaks throughout presentation of its new full-electric and hydrogen fuel-cell battery vans in partnership with CNH Industrial, at an occasion in Turin, Italy December 2, 2019.

Massimo Pinca | Reuters

The founder of electrical semitruck maker Nikola Motor is standing trial on fraud fees associated to statements he made concerning the firm’s expertise and merchandise, statements that federal prosecutors allege had been exaggerated and deceptive.

The U.S. Lawyer’s Workplace in Manhattan has alleged that Trevor Milton, who based Nikola in 2014, lied about “practically all elements of the enterprise” throughout his time as chairman and CEO of the corporate. These lies had been meant to bolster gross sales of the startup’s inventory, prosecutors alleged in indictments launched in 2021 and earlier this 12 months. Milton has denied the fees.

“He lied to dupe harmless traders into shopping for his firm’s inventory,” Assistant U.S. Lawyer Nicolas Roos stated in opening statements in U.S. District Courtroom in New York Tuesday. “On the backs of these harmless traders taken in by his lies, he grew to become a billionaire just about in a single day.”

The trial started with jury choice on Monday and received underway on Tuesday. Prosecutors instructed potential jurors that the proceedings had been more likely to final about 5 weeks.

The trial caps a shocking rise and fall of Nikola underneath Milton.

The corporate’s inventory worth briefly surged to greater than $90 per share in June 2020, days after it went public through a merger with a special-purpose acquisition firm (SPAC). The inventory run-up made Nikola – an organization that did not but have income on the time – extra invaluable than Ford Motor.

However its shares fell sharply after Milton was pressured out of the corporate in September of that 12 months, following fraud allegations made by short-seller Hindenburg Research. Each the Securities and Alternate Fee and the U.S. Division of Justice opened investigations following Milton’s departure; he was indicted on three counts of fraud by a grand jury in July 2021. Prosecutors added a fourth count in June.

Nikola’s shares closed at $5.03 apiece on Tuesday.

Milton is going through two counts of securities fraud and two counts of wire fraud, all associated to statements he made about Nikola’s enterprise whereas he was chairman and CEO of the corporate. If convicted, he might withstand 25 years in federal jail.

Milton’s lawyer, Marc Mukasey, stated Tuesday that Milton sought to convey a imaginative and prescient for the way forward for trucking, to not mislead traders. Mukasey has indicated that the protection plans to argue different executives at Nikola, together with the corporate’s common counsel, signed off on Milton’s statements.

Nikola itself is not going through fees on this case. The SEC introduced associated civil fees towards the corporate final 12 months, however that case was settled in December after Nikola agreed to pay a $125 million fine. Milton nonetheless owns Nikola inventory, however the firm has in any other case lower ties with its founder.

Here is what Milton is charged with:

Prosecutors allege that Milton made “false and deceptive statements relating to Nikola’s product and expertise improvement” as a part of a “scheme” meant to induce retail traders to purchase shares of Nikola. Prosecutors allege:

  • Milton stated that the corporate’s first semitruck prototype, referred to as the Nikola One, was “totally practical” – but it surely wasn’t.
  • A video displaying the prototype truck apparently driving underneath its personal energy was created by rolling the truck — which could not drive by itself — down a hill.
  • Individually, Milton claimed that Nikola had engineered and constructed an electrical pickup truck referred to as the Badger, fully by itself, after years of labor. However, prosecutors say, the Badger was little greater than “idea sketches and renderings” on the time of Milton’s preliminary statements.
  • Whereas the corporate finally confirmed a prototype Badger, the present truck was in truth constructed by third-party distributors and primarily based on a truck from a big automaker.
  • Milton additionally instructed traders that Nikola was producing hydrogen fuel — wanted to refuel its fuel-cell-powered vans — at a lowered value; that Nikola had developed electric-vehicle batteries in-house; and that Nikola had binding orders representing “billions in income” for its electrical vans. All of these statements had been false, in accordance with prosecutors.

Milton can be accused of creating comparable misrepresentations to the seller of a ranch he purchased in 2020, in an try to get the vendor to simply accept Nikola inventory as half fee for the acquisition.

Prosecutors are anticipated to start presenting their full case towards Milton to jurors on Wednesday.

—Reuters contributed to this report.



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