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Fraud Trial of Nikola Founder Trevor Milton Wraps Up

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The trial of

Nikola Corp.

founder

Trevor Milton

concluded Thursday after closing arguments in which prosecutors called the former executive a con man and the entrepreneur’s lawyer said he didn’t intend to deceive anyone about the electric-truck company’s technology.

The jury, which is expected to begin deliberations Friday after receiving legal instructions from the judge, is set to weigh whether to convict Mr. Milton of two securities-fraud charges and two wire-fraud charges. If convicted, Mr. Milton faces up to 25 years in prison on the top count.

Nikola has said it cooperated with government investigations.

Nikola was the buzz of Wall Street, trying to cut a path in electric trucking. But then federal prosecutors began investigating claims that it misled investors. WSJ explains Nikola’s roller-coaster journey. Photo Graphic: WSJ

In Manhattan federal court, lawyers presented contrasting portraits of Mr. Milton, 40 years old, who resigned from the company in 2020.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Jordan Estes told the jury that Mr. Milton, motivated by money and power, committed a brazen fraud. Ms. Estes said the executive wanted to be on the Forbes list of the top 100 richest people, which she called an astounding level of greed.

“Trevor Milton is a con man,” she told jurors. “His lies may have been on social media, but make no mistake, this was an old fashioned fraud.”

Ms. Estes ticked off what she said were Mr. Milton’s repeated lies about Nikola’s business, told on podcasts, television and social media. Mr. Milton lied about Nikola’s ability to produce the hydrogen he said would power its trucks, lied about whether it had binding truck orders and lied about whether the company’s trucks were functional, she said.

“They had renderings,” she told the jury, about a pickup truck called the Badger. “Exactly the opposite of a real truck.”

Defense attorney Marc Mukasey told the jury that Mr. Milton hadn’t intended to deceive anyone. Nikola’s leadership approved his statements and cheered him on, the defense lawyer said. He said that Mr. Milton used some terms—like “built” in reference to the Badger—in ways that were common in the industry.  

Besides, Mr. Mukasey said, investors had access to information about Nikola’s business in securities filings. He played for the jury a short disclaimer from the introduction to a podcast in which Mr. Milton touted the company.

“This podcast is for entertainment purposes only,” said the clip played in court. “Nothing discussed on this podcast should be considered investment advice.”

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