Nikola Corp. founder and former executive chair was released on $100 million bail after pleading guilty to charges that he lied about his startup of electric and hydrogen-powered trucks. He also allegedly deceived novice investors, including those who were financially strapped and looking for income during the pandemic.
Trevor Milton, 39, of Oakley, Utah, resigned from Nikola in September amid allegations of fraud. Milton stated that he would defend himself against allegations that the company made false claims regarding its vehicles. Nikola denies these accusations.
Milton was indicted with wire fraud and securities fraud in an unsigned Manhattan federal court indictment.
Milton pleaded guilty at his arraignment. He was released on $100m bail secured by two Utah properties. One property, according to a prosecutor, was appraised recently at $36million. Magistrate Sarah Netburn directed him to not contact investors unless there was an independent relationship.
Marc Mukasey was one of Martin’s lawyers. He alerted him that certain financial information in his court record would need to be changed, including a statement that Milton bank accounts contained $50,000,000.
Mukasey stated that it was “a lot more than that, as we understand it.”
Milton refused to answer any questions as he left courthouse in a purple tie and a suit.
His lawyers released a statement through a spokesperson stating that justice was not served today by the government’s actions, but it will when Mr. Milton is exonerated.”
According to the statement, the case was “a new low in government efforts to criminalize lawful commercial conduct.” All executives in America should be horrified.
“Trevor Milton was an entrepreneur with a long-term vision to help the environment by reducing carbon emissions in the trucking sector. “Mr. Milton was wrongfully accused after a flawed and incomplete investigation in the which the government ignored crucial evidence and failed to interview key witnesses,” it said.
Audrey Strauss, Manhattan U.S. attorney, stated that Milton made false and misleading claims about Nikola’s trucks, technology, from November 2019 to September 2018.
At a news conference, she said that the charges were “where rubber meets the road”.
Separate civil charges were filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Nikola Corp. shares, which are based in Phoenix, Arizona, fell 7% just before the opening bell on Thursday. It had dropped by 10% at 2 p.m.
The indictment stated that Milton’s claims were directed at retail investors without professional experience in securities markets. This includes people who started trading stocks during the coronavirus Pandemic to replace lost income or occupy time during lockdown.
It stated that some people suffered losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars, including their retirement savings and funds they borrowed to invest in Nikola.
Milton, however, was motivated to deceive investors in order to “enrich himself” and “elevate his stature as a entrepreneur,” according to the indictment. He noted that Nikola’s holdings were valued at $8.5B at one time, which helped him get closer to his goal of being among the 100 richest people in the world.
According to the indictment, Milton was described as a serial entrepreneur from Utah who had no engineering background when he founded Nikola in 2015. It said that Milton became “increasingly preoccupied” by maintaining the stock’s high price after Nikola announced its stock would be listed publicly in March 2020.
Indictment mentioned numerous statements Milton made that were false and misleading. These included claims that the company created a prototype semitruck known as “Nikola One” and that it was “fully functional.” It also stated that Milton knew the prototype was not operational and was missing key components, such as motors and gears.
Hindenburg Research reported last year that Nikola’s success was “an intricate scam” and was based on “an ocean full of lies”, including a video of Nikola rolling downhill to create the illusion it was cruising along a highway and stenciling “hydrogen-electric” on the side of the vehicle, which was actually powered by natural gasoline.
The video was also included in the indictment. Milton explained that the truck didn’t drive under its own power, as motors and gears had been removed for safety reasons. Milton said that he “never deceived anyone”.
Milton also misled investors by claiming Nikola had engineered and constructed an electric- and hydrogen-powered pickup truck called “the Badger” from “ground up” using Nikola’s technology. The indictment stated that Milton knew this wasn’t true.
Indictment stated that he also misled investors when he claimed Nikola was producing hydrogen at reduced costs “when Milton knew in fact that no hydrogen was being produced by Nikola at any cost.”