The New York Attorney General’s Office has now filed charges against Trevor Milton, the Nikola founder who resigned in September 2020 after allegations of fraud. He is accused of misleading investors.
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As a reminder, in mid-September 2020, short-seller Hindenburg Research had made serious allegations of fraud against the budding electric truck maker: that the company was swimming in an “ocean of lies”, and that many of the company’s achievements were based on fraud or the developments of partner companies. Subsequently, Nikola denied the allegations in essence, and Milton even wanted to take legal action against the short-seller. A few days later, Milton resigned. In addition to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the US Department of Justice also investigated.
The New York State Attorney General’s Office has now indicted Milton for allegedly deliberately deceiving and misleading investors. The 49-page indictment includes three counts of fraud. Due to false statements about the company’s products, investors allegedly invested in the listed company and subsequently lost money.
In essence, the charges are very similar to those of Hindenburg Research: Milton is alleged to have announced, among other things, that Nikola had built a “completely functional” semi-trailer truck. Milton knew, however, that the vehicle was “not operational” because important parts such as engines and transmissions were missing. Hindenburg Research had also accused Nikola that the prototype had merely rolled down a sloping road without drive. With his promises, Milton had wanted to persuade investors to buy shares. Nikola himself had stated at the time that the components of the truck had been removed for safety reasons for the presentation.
In a recent statement by his lawyer, Milton says he is innocent. “Trevor Milton is innocent; this is a new low in the government’s efforts to criminalize lawful business conduct,” the lawyer responded. “Mr. Milton has been wrongfully accused following a faulty and incomplete investigation in which the government ignored critical evidence and failed to interview important witnesses. From the beginning, this has been an investigation in search of a crime. Justice was not served by the government’s action today, but it will be when Mr. Milton is exonerated.”
Milton also pleaded not guilty to all charges in court. The court released Milton on US$100 million bail. It has not yet been determined when the trial will begin.
Update 24 November 2021
While there is no news yet on the Milton trial, Nikola Motor says it expects to be fined $125 million as part of a settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The SEC had charged Nikola CEO Trevor Milton, who resigned after allegations of fraud, for repeatedly misleading investors about the company’s technology and capabilities via social media. Nikola also announces that it will seek compensation from Milton for damages and costs incurred as a result of the SEC’s and US Justice Department’s investigations.
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