Nikola Corporation founder Trevor Milton was found guilty of three counts of criminal fraud on Friday after he was accused of defrauding investors last year.
Two counts of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud are the charges that will stick with Milton following the conclusion of his case, which occurred on Friday in Manhattan. Milton pleaded not guilty to all counts but now faces a maximum prison sentence of up to 25 years for the top charge, Bloomberg reported.
“I did nothing wrong,” Milton said after the trial concluded. “I was talking about a business plan,” he said.
Jurors had another perspective. “I thought the evidence was clear,” a juror reportedly said.
Milton’s promises as Nikola’s frontman were lofty. After promising the launch of several vehicles, talking about their manufacturing development, and even claiming its marquee product was operational, Milton was bound to be the next big thing in the EV industry. Things started not to add up, however. Hindenburg Research released a scathing report on Milton in 2020 that accused the company of misleading investors, most notably with a low-grade hill that was used to make its Nikola One semi-truck appear to be self-propelled. The company eventually admitted that it was not, and the hill assisted the vehicle in appearing to be operational.
Milton eventually stepped down from Nikola in early 2021. By June 2021, charges from a federal grand jury had accused Milton of lying about “nearly all aspects” of Nikola’s business.
“Milton’s scheme targeted individual, non-professional investors — so-called retail investors — by making false and misleading statements directly to the investing public through social media, and television, print and podcast interviews,” prosecutors said after the indictment was unsealed on July 29, 2021.
Since Milton’s exit from the company, Nikola has rebounded dramatically. The company has started producing and delivering the battery-electric Nikola Tre semi-truck in North America and recently launched orders for the vehicle in Europe. Earlier this week, Nikola completed its acquisition of Romeo Power, a transaction that started in May after the companies announced an all-stock transaction. Nikola also paid the SEC a $125 million fine to settle charges that it had misled investors with its products.
“The company has cooperated with the government throughout the course of its inquiry. We remain committed to our previously announced milestones and timelines and are focused on delivering Nikola Tre battery-electric trucks later this year from the company’s manufacturing facilities,” the company said in a statement after the indictment was passed down.
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