Trevor Milton, founder of the electric vehicle company (Nikola) with zero sales, charged with criminal fraud and two counts of securities fraud
As you may recall, Nikola founder Trevor Milton resigned from the electric vehicle company in September 2020 as SEC continued its investigation over short seller’s claims that the hydrogen-electric truck startup misled investors. Milton may go down in what some describe as “Elizabeth Holmes 2.0.”
Now after about a year of investigations, the hammer of justice has fallen on Milton. Yesterday, a US Federal grand jury returned an indictment against Trevor Milton that included three counts of criminal fraud, including “lying about ‘nearly all aspects of the business,” and two counts of securities fraud. In defiance, Milton pled not guilty to the charges and has been freed on a $100 million bond.
In her ruling, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss said, “In order to drive investor demand for Nikola’s stock, Milton lied about nearly every aspect of the business.” At a news conference held after her office released a 49-page indictment of Milton on three counts of fraud, judge Strauss said “Milton brazenly and repeatedly made false and misleading claims about the status of Nikola technology.”
Milton made these and other false claims to “induce retail investors to purchase Nikola’s stock,” the indictment reads.
“When Milton’s statements were shown to be false, shareholders, including some with little prior investing experience, “suffered tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses, including, in certain cases, the loss of their retirement savings or funds that they had borrowed to invest in Nikola,” said the indictment.
He was later taken into custody early on Thursday and is expected to appear later in court Thursday.
It all started back in September 2020 when Milton was reportedly under SEC investigation over the short seller’s claims that the electric truck maker misled investors. A short seller by the name Hindenburg accused Nikola founder Trevor Milton of making false statements about its technology in order to grow the company and partner with auto companies.
In a report titled “Nikola: How to Parlay An Ocean of Lies Into a Partnership With the Largest Auto OEM in America,” Hindenburg characterized Nikola as an “intricate fraud built on dozens of lies” by Milton. The report was released two days after the company announced a deal with General Motors that sent both companies’ shares soaring.
Judge Strauss confirmed that Milton’s false claims occurred between November 2019, when Milton took steps to take Nikola public, and September 2020, when he left the company. During that period, Milton became “increasingly preoccupied” with keeping Nikola’s stock price high, enabling his own holdings to top US$7 billion (S$9.4 billion) when Nikola shares were at their peak, she said.
Founded in 2014 by Trevor Milton, the Salt Lake City-based company builds heavy-duty transport trucks using hybrid hydrogen-electric powertrains. The company has not sold a single car or truck since its inception seven years ago. Named after inventor Nikola Tesla, the company designs and manufactures electric vehicles, vehicle components, energy storage systems, and electric vehicle drivetrains.