Nikola Founder Trevor Milton Convicted on 3 Counts of Fraud
Written by Ben O’Hare, InsideEVs
Published Oct. 17, 2022
Nikola Motors founder and former CEO Trevor Milton was convicted on three of the four counts of fraud he was facing.
Milton was charged with two counts each of wire fraud and securities fraud. The 40-year-old insisted he "did nothing wrong" and was only "talking about a business plan."
He was found guilty on both counts of wire fraud and one of securities fraud. He was acquitted on the other securities fraud charge.
Milton founded Nikola Motors in 2014 with the goal of making a hydrogen-powered Class 8 semi truck. The firm later revealed plans for a hydrogen pickup, the Badger, which would be built by General Motors.
Nikola went public in June 2020 and was valued at $34 billion at one point; Milton himself was worth $6.6 billion thanks to a 19.5% stake. Milton cashed in on the hype and sold a significant amount of his shares. He was quick to make use of his newfound wealth, buying a 2,000-acre luxury ranch in Utah for $32.5 million.
However, it turned out Nikola was nowhere near as technologically advanced as Milton claimed. The Hindenburg report of September 2020 stated the firm did not have working prototypes and faked a video of a "functional" Nikola Tre by instead rolling a shell down a hill. Furthermore, the report alleged claims of groundbreaking battery technology were false.
Nikola responded by threatening to sue Hindenburg. The SEC got involved and the startup was eventually forced to pay $125 million to resolve the dispute. Also in September 2020, sexual assault claims against Milton emerged. Milton resigned as CEO of Nikola on Sept. 20, 2020, and left the company entirely that December.
Nikola started to clean up its image and distance itself from Milton, appointing Mark Russell as CEO. The company has made significant progress since and now does in fact have working prototype trucks.
Milton continued to be investigated separately and was indicted on four counts of fraud in July 2021 by a federal grand jury.
This takes us to the present day, where Milton has been found guilty on three of the four aforementioned charges. U.S. Attorney Damian Williams concluded Milton lied "over and over again" and his case should serve as a warning to anyone "who plays fast and loose with the truth to get investors to part with their money."
The disgraced former CEO now faces up to 20 years in prison.