Trevor Milton, founder and former CEO of electric and hydrogen vehicle company Nikola, has been found guilty on three counts of fraud after a jury decided that he lied to investors to increase the startup’s stock. An indictment filed in 2021 accused the company of staging a video that purportedly showed its Nikola One semi driving under its own power, when it was actually rolling down a hill.
Milton was also accused of misleading investors about where the batteries in its vehicles came from, the development process for its pickup truck, and about how far the vehicles were in development, according to Reuters. He stepped down from his role as CEO in September 2020.
Milton’s charges include one count of securities fraud, and two counts of wire fraud. He was acquitted on one count of securities fraud. His attorney told Reuters that he’ll appeal the verdict.
The case wasn’t against the company, which is still in business (and which recently recalled nearly 100 vehicles), but Milton himself, who allegedly ignored Nikola’s chief engineer’s advice to postpone a launch event, as the truck wouldn’t be ready. In a statement emailed to The Verge by publicist Colleen Robar, Nikola said it “appreciate[s] the court’s and jury’s attention to this matter” and is “pleased to close this chapter” so it can focus on its business.
Nikola was founded in in the mid-2010s, and investors had poured billions of dollars into the company by 2020, including from big names like GM. But in September that year, a short-selling firm published a report accusing the company of fraud, citing the video which the company posted with the caption “Behold, the Nikola One in motion.” By the end of 2021, GM had announced it was no longer acquiring a stake in the company, Miller had been officially charged with fraud, and the company had to pay $125 million in penalties to settle charges that it had mislead investors.
Update October 14th, 5:46PM ET: Updated with statement from Nikola.