Nikola Corporation founder Trevor Milton was found guilty of three counts of criminal fraud on Friday after being accused of defrauding investors last year.
Two counts of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud are the charges that will remain with Milton following the conclusion of his case, which took place in Manhattan on Friday. Milton pleaded not guilty to all charges but now faces a maximum sentence of up to 25 years on the highest charge. Bloomberg reported.
“I did nothing wrong,” Milton said after the trial was completed. “I was talking about a business plan,” he said.
The jury had a different perspective. “I thought the evidence was clear,” a juror reportedly said.
Milton’s promises as Nikola’s frontman were high. After promising several vehicles to market, talking about their manufacturing evolution and even claiming their flagship product was operational, Milton was certainly the next big thing in the electric vehicle industry. However, things didn’t begin to add up. Hindenburg Research published a scathing report on Milton in 2020, accusing the company of misleading investors, specifically with a low hill used to make its Nikola One tractor-trailer truck appear to be self-driving. The company eventually admitted that wasn’t the case, and the mound helped the vehicle appear operational.
Milton eventually resigned from Nikola in early 2021. By June 2021, indictments by a federal grand jury had accused Milton of lying about “almost every aspect” of Nikola’s business.
“Milton’s plan 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 had been unsealed on July 29th, 2021.
Since Milton’s departure from the company, Nikola has recovered dramatically. The company has begun production and delivery of the battery-electric Nikola Tre semi-trailer truck in North America and recently started orders for the vehicle in Europe. Earlier this week, Nikola completed the acquisition of Romeo Power, a transaction that began in May after the companies announced an all-stock deal. Nikola also paid the SEC a $125 million fine to settle allegations that it misled investors with its products.
“The company has cooperated with the government in the course of its investigation. We remain committed to our previously announced milestones and timelines and are focused on shipping Nikola Tre’s battery electric trucks from the company’s manufacturing facilities later this year,” the company said in a statement after the charges were filed.
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