Tesla lawsuit against alleged Musk impersonator is challenged in court

Tesla’s lawsuit against former oil executive, Todd Katz, who has been accused of impersonating Elon Musk through email communication, has been challenged this week in court with a series of defense objections. The Tesla lawsuit alleges that Katz set up an email address with the intention to impersonate the company’s CEO and extract sensitive financial information from Tesla CFO Jason Wheeler.

Attorneys for Katz, the former CFO of Quest Integrity, which provides services to oil and gas companies ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell, among others, argue that the case against him isn’t viable because his impersonation wasn’t credible.

According to the lawsuit, Katz composed an email from the account to Wheeler on August 3, 2016.  In it, he sought specific disclosures regarding Tesla’s second-quarter financial results, which were scheduled for release that day.

“why you so cautious w Q3/4 gm guidance on call? also what are your thoughts on disclosing M3 res#? Pros/cons from ir pov? what is your best guess as to where we actually come in on q3/4 deliverables. honest guess? no bs. thx 4 hard work prepping 4 today em”

Wheeler’s suspicion of the email’s genesis led Tesla to launch an investigation, which was formalized in September, to determine that author’s true identity. That search led to Katz, who has since resigned from his position with Quest Integrity.

Katz attorneys argue that the Tesla lawsuit is flawed on several fronts. They say the email allegedly received by CFO Wheeler:

  • was goofy;
  • nobody ever believed it really came from Elon Musk;
  • used a Yahoo email account;
  • had grammatically deficient communication;
  • contained peculiar syntax;
  • was not a credible impersonation of Elon Musk in any way; and,
  • provided no direct injury to Tesla.

The defense document was filed in a Santa Clara, CA superior court. Elon Musk, the court filings explain, is “known to be a stickler for grammar and would never use such atrocious syntax.”   Katz’ attorneys state that Tesla is “over-the-top” and is drawing in the courts as a “heavy-handed attempt to intimidate and silence Mr. Katz, a Tesla critic.”

To counter the Tesla lawsuit, Katz has filed a cross-complaint, alleging that Tesla hacked into his Twitter account —  @valuationmattrs – in order to identify him. The complaint alleges that Tesla’s investigation and hacking caused Katz to suffer damages, “including loss of earnings and damage to reputation.”

A Tesla spokesperson replied:

“The oil executive Todd Katz is perfectly capable of embarrassing himself with no help from Tesla. We did not even know that the Twitter pseudonym in question belonged to Mr Katz. What we are most interested in discovering is what people or organizations collaborated with Mr. Katz in his attempt to gain information illegally from Tesla and who or what companies may have paid him to do so. That is of great concern to us and many members of the public.”

All too often, Tesla, which has the potential for disruption of the energy status-quo, finds itself the object of lawsuits. Among them from 2016 are four SolarCity shareholder lawsuits, accusations of false advertising of its ‘Insane Mode’, and a Beijing lawsuit against the company over a Tesla driver’s death.

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