July 30, 2021
Trevor Milton, the founder and former executive chairman of electric vehicle company Nikola, has been charged with two counts of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud by a federal grand jury. Milton has been accused of lying about “nearly all aspects of the business” to boost Nikola’s stock, reports Engadget.
The indictment alleges that Milton made it seem Nikola was much further along than it actually was in terms of having fully functional EVs. It asserts he had a hand in creating a video that made it seem as if a Nikola One prototype was able to move by itself when it was actually rolling down a slope.
According to Engadget, Milton falsely claimed the company had “billions and billions and billions and billions” of dollars’ worth of preorder reservations and that the company was producing its own hydrogen at four times less than market rates, according to the indictment.
He’s also accused of falsely claiming that Nikola had developed “game-changing” battery technology, that it was developing and making several key components for its EVs in-house and that “the total cost of ownership of Nikola’s trucks was 20% to 30% below that of diesel vehicles.”
Prosecutors claim Milton, who resigned in September in the face of a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) probe, targeted and misled amateur investors (or “retail investors”). According to the indictment, some of those investors lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
At Nikola’s peak valuation, Milton held around $8.5 billion worth of stock, as CNBC has noted. The grand jury argues that Milton should surrender property “traceable to the commission of said offenses.” That could include the over $1 billion Milton made when the company went public in June 2020.
The SEC also filed civil securities fraud charges against Milton on Thursday, July 29. The agency asked a district court to force Milton to forfeit “ill-gotten gains” and to pay a fine. It also called for a lifetime ban on Milton serving as an officer at a company that issues securities.
Research contact: @engadget