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Trevor Milton, Nikola CEO and Founder, Charged With Three Counts of Fraud

Trevor Milton, one-time visionary and founder and (ex-)CEO of Nikola, has been formally charged with three counts of fraud over the claims he made while still at the head of the company. He’s since surrendered and has been released on a $100 million bond.
Trevor Milton presenting the Nikola One truck, which he claimed was fully functional. It never was. 11 photos
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While the charges do not reflect in any way Nikola does business today, back when the company was just getting started, Nikola and Milton were practically inseparable, in a way that can only be compared to how Elon Musk is inseparable from Tesla. Milton was ousted from the company in 2020, after short-seller Hindenburg Research published a damning expose calling him out for making false claims that would ultimately serve to drive up stock price.

In short, it claimed that Nikola had been selling lies and that all of Milton’s claims of having built an electric pickup truck and a hydrogen-powered truck from the ground up were blatant lies. The damning report was followed by a separate investigation by U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department, and an internal review. In early 2021, the internal review established that all the accusations brought forth by Hindenburg were accurate.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office feels the same way, so it’s formally pressing charges against Milton, alleging that he deliberately lied and misrepresented facts so he could artificially inflate the Nikola stock price and, in the process, “enrich himself.” Even after Milton was exposed by Hindenburg, he continued to get rich, U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss told the press, since Nikola had gone public through a SPAC merger.

“This is a very straightforward case, Milton told lies to generate popular demand for Nikola stock,” Strauss explained (she comes in at the 6.40-minute mark in the video below). “Beginning at least in or about March 2020, when Nikola announced that its stock would become publicly listed, Milton became increasingly preoccupied with keeping Nikola’s stock price high.”

Strauss says prosecutors believe Milton lied about “nearly all aspects of the business,” including development on the Nikola One truck, the Badger pickup, hydrogen production, how they were developing technology in-house, and the number and nature of reservations. They’re charging him with three counts of fraud and are asking that he forfeit all property obtained through said acts of fraud.

Milton turned himself in before the press conference, and was released on a $100 million bond secured against two of his properties in Utah, after pleading not guilty. In a statement to CNBC, his attorneys maintain his innocence, noting how he’s being turned into a scapegoat by the government, which is looking to “criminalize lawful business conduct.”

Editor's note: The gallery shows the Nikola One flagship hydrogen-powered truck.


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