Nikola founder Trevor Milton faces new federal fraud charge tied to ranch purchase

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  • Federal prosecutors have uncovered a new charge against Nikola founder Trevor Milton related to the purchase of a Utah ranch.
  • Milton allegedly misrepresented the state of Nikola’s business in order to convince the seller of the farm to accept the Nikola stock option as a partial payment.
  • This is the fourth charge against Milton, who has maintained his innocence.

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The founders of electric-truck start-up Nikola Motors, already under a fraud indictment, are facing a new charge related to the purchase of a Utah farm—a purchase he paid for with an option to buy Nikola stock.

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Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York on Wednesday charged Trevor Milton with a new count of wire fraud for misrepresenting the status of Nikola’s business to buy Nikola stock as part payment to a Wasatch Creek Ranch seller. Accused of persuading him to accept the alternative. Farm around April 2020.

The new count is the fourth federal charge against Milton. In July 2021, a federal grand jury charged Milton with three counts of criminal fraud for allegedly lying about “virtually all aspects of the business” in order to promote the sale of the electric vehicle company’s stock.

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The option to buy Nikola stock would have allowed farm seller Peter Hicks to purchase more than 500,000 shares of the company, which at the time had a discounted price of $16.50 per share.

Nikola’s stock price briefly rose to over $60 in June 2020, but fell sharply after Milton was ousted from the company in September of that year amid allegations of fraud. The company’s shares were trading at $5.60 late on Wednesday.

Milton’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prosecutors said Milton hatched a complex scheme designed to pump the company’s stock to his advantage by lying about Nikola’s products, technology and future sales prospects. They accuse Nicola of using the deal to go public through a special purpose acquisition company to target amateur retail investors, some of whom lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In his civil suit against Milton, Hicks alleged that Milton made similar representations to persuade him to accept stock options in payment for the farm.
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Several allegations about Milton’s alleged false and misleading statements were first uncovered by short-seller Hindenburg Research.

Milton, who is still awaiting trial, has maintained his innocence. He pleaded not guilty to criminal charges in a New York court last year.

However, after an internal investigation, Nicola said in February that it found that Milton made several false statements that misled investors through the company’s IPO from 2016 to June 2020.

In December, Nikola agreed to pay $125 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle allegations that it defrauded investors by misleading them about its products, technical capability and business prospects.

Nikola was the catalyst for electric vehicle start-ups to go public through SPAC deals. Investor interest in such companies increased after Tesla’s stock skyrocketed in 2020 by market cap.

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