Nikola Corporation will pay a $125 million penalty to settle charges against founder Trevor Milton, who misled investors and is currently under indictment for three counts of fraud.
The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Milton for using his social media accounts, especially his Twitter page, to mislead investors regarding the progress of the company’s products. Over the course of Milton’s tenure as CEO of Nikola, he made many claims that ended up being false, most notably a claim that the Nikola One, the company’s semi-truck project, was self-propelled. It was later revealed by Hindenburg Research the One was rolled down a low-grade hill to appear to be self-propelled. Nikola later admitted the vehicle was not operational, and it did not want to funnel any more funds into a prototype.
Nikola said the entire settlement amount would be paid back over two years, according to Reuters. It has yet to be approved by a vote of SEC commissioners. The company also said it would seek reimbursement from Milton for costs and damages related to the investigation and subsequent penalty.
In July, Milton was arrested and charged with three counts of criminal fraud for allegedly lying about “nearly all aspects” of Nikola’s business. Milton shall be forced to forfeit all properties traceable to the commission of his offenses, which could include over $1 billion Milton acquired after Nikola Motor went public last year. Milton’s tab could increase by as much as $125 million if Nikola decides to pursue him for additional damages.
Nikola is working to close this chapter of its story and move on from the Milton saga. The company said it is building pre-series trucks at its Coolidge, Arizona production facility and could deliver as many as 25 trucks to dealers and customers by the end of the year. In September, Nikola and Bosch Group signed a deal to produce fuel-cell power modules at the Coolidge facility. Nikola has also said that it has already built seven working hydrogen fuel-cell trucks currently testing in Germany and the United States. The company plans to release them on public roads by then of 2021.
Nikola is also currently suing Tesla, claiming Tesla infringed on several design patents for the Semi that Nikola owns the rights to. The case has been given new deadlines and must move forward by January 13, 2022.
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