Trevor Milton, the founder of zero-emission truck manufacturer Nikola, has been sentenced to four years in prison for multiple counts of fraud.
After U.S. prosecutors last week suggested a sentence of 11 years for Milton, New York-based U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos sentenced the Nikola founder to four years in prison on two counts of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud. Milton was found guilty in the case last year, and earlier this year, he was ordered to pay $165 million in damages back to Nikola.
Milton has denied wrongdoing and has requested probation, saying he hadn’t intended to mislead investors about the capabilities of its electric semi-truck. He’s also expected to appeal the conviction, and Judge Ramos said on Monday that Milton would be allowed to remain free on bail during the appeal process.
“I was not a very seasoned CEO,” Milton said.
The decision follows a series of incidents in 2019 and 2020, in which Milton presented misleading details about its Nikola One electric semi-truck. The fraud came to light after a video of the Nikola One rolling had surfaced, making the truck seem as if it had been driving, while it was later discovered that, in fact, the semi had not been self-propelled at all.
Many of the misleading statements had also been made via public YouTube videos and other online platforms, making the white-collar fraud case unique compared to many others in which executives have defrauded investors through corporate filings, financial statements and other official documentation.
After news had surfaced of the fraudulent claims, Milton stepped down as Nikola’s executive chairman in September 2020, and federal prosecutors later charged him in July 2021. Milton was officially convicted last October.
Milton requested a new trial following the trial’s verdict last year, claiming that the jury had convicted him based on incorrect instructions from the judge and adding that one juror had even lied to make it onto the panel. The judge denied the request in August.
Nikola shares peaked in mid-2020 at nearly $80, causing the truck maker’s market capitalization to surge past $30 billion. Since then, Nikola’s stock has dropped to under $1 per share for much of the year, risking delisting from Nasdaq. The stock shortly rebounded to around $3 in August before dropping back down to less than $1.