Nikola Motors founder and former CEO Trevor Milton has been convicted on three of the four counts of fraud he was facing. Milton was charged with two counts of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud. The 40-year-old insisted he "did nothing wrong" and was only "talking about a business plan".
Trevor 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, dubbed the Badger, which would be built by General Motors. Nikola went public in June 2020 and was valued at $34 billion at one point, with Milton himself being 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 infamous Hindenburg report of September 2020 stated that 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 that claims of groundbreaking battery technology were false.
Nikola responded by threatening to sue Hindenburg, however 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 September 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 United States federal grand jury.
This takes us to the present day, where Milton has been found guilty on three of the four aforementioned charges. US Attorney Damian Williams concluded that Milton lied "over and over again" and that 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.