© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Trevor Milton, founder and former CEO of Nikola Corp., leaves the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in New York, U.S., September 12, 2022. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky/File Photo
By Jody Godoy
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Nikola Corp. founder Trevor Milton on Friday was found guilty by a U.S. jury of fraud in a case accusing him of lying to investors about the electric vehicle company’s technology.
The jury found Milton guilty of one count of securities fraud and two counts of electrical fraud after deliberation for about five hours. Milton was acquitted of additional securities fraud charges.
During a trial in federal court in Manhattan, prosecutors described Milton, 40, as a “fraud” who sought to mislead investors about the carmaker’s technology. Electric and hydrogen-powered loads starting November 2019.
Milton, of Oakley, Utah, was indicted in July 2021. He left Nikola in September 2020 after a report by short seller Hindenburg Research called the company a “fraud”.
Prosecutors allege Milton used social media and television, podcast and print interviews to make false and misleading statements about Nikola’s trucks and technology.
They say Milton’s false claims include that Nikola built an electric and hydrogen-powered “Badger” pickup truck from the “base”, developing in-house batteries he knew they were buying in elsewhere and soon succeeded in creating the “Nikola One” pickup truck that he knew was not working.
Milton’s statements about Nikola come as the company participates in a growing number of technology and electric vehicle companies going public through special purpose acquisition vehicles or SPACs. He is also accused of defrauding the seller of a Utah ranch, who accepted a call option on Nikola stock as part of the purchase price based on Milton’s claims about the company.
The defense and prosecution presented their final arguments to the jury on Thursday in a trial that began September 13. Prosecutors said Milton was obsessed with the company’s share price. and make claims that increase its net worth and net worth. The defense said prosecutors distorted Milton’s statements about Nikola’s plan to shake up the auto industry.