Nikola founder Trevor Milton sentenced to four years: Tech fraud is harming security

  • Trevor Milton, founder of Nikola, was sentenced to four years in prison for defrauding investors by lying about the company’s electric truck technology.
  • Despite Milton’s claims of innocence and his defense citing “deeply-held optimism,” the court emphasized the necessity of honesty in corporate communication.

Trevor Milton, the founder of Nikola, a company specializing in electric and hydrogen-powered trucks, has been sentenced to four years in prison. This decision comes after a jury found him guilty of defrauding investors by making false statements about the company’s technology.

The sentencing, which took place in a federal court in Manhattan, was presided over by U.S. District Judge Edgar Ramos. During the trial, federal prosecutors in Manhattan presented evidence that Milton had misled investors on multiple counts. He falsely claimed that Nikola had developed its own batteries and built a pickup truck from scratch. Moreover, he touted the early success of the “Nikola One” semi-truck, despite knowing it was non-operational.

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Judge’s Stance and Milton’s Defense

In delivering the sentence, Judge Ramos rejected Milton’s defense that his statements were a result of “deeply-held optimism” about his Phoenix-based company. The judge emphasized the need for honesty and transparency in corporate communications, regardless of the position held. He pointed out that Milton’s case differed from that of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who was sentenced last year for similar crimes, as Holmes’ lies had put people’s health at risk.

Technology fraud has a severe negative impact on people’s safety and market trust. It not only undermines the trust of investors and consumers but also leads to the misallocation of resources and overall market instability. Additionally, if technology related to critical infrastructure or essential services is falsely represented, it can pose significant public safety risks, while also causing long-term damage to the ethical standards of the entire industry.

It’s very interesting that netizens are comparing the full self-driving promised by Elon Musk with this electric-truck news. The following are X’s comments about this news.

Sentencing Outcome

Milton, who was convicted in October 2022 on one count of securities fraud and two counts of wire fraud, maintained his innocence during the sentencing. He cited Bible verses and spoke about his family and rural upbringing. He argued for probation, stating it would allow him to be with his wife during her illness. However, Judge Ramos underscored that good intentions do not absolve legal responsibilities.

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Implications for Nikola and final remarks

While the prosecutors had sought a sentence of around 11 years, akin to Holmes’ sentence, the court settled on a four-year term. Despite the conviction, Milton was allowed to remain free on bail pending his appeal. This case marks a significant downturn for Nikola, which once boasted a stock price of over $60 in June 2020. Following these legal troubles and the SEC’s civil charges, which led to a $125 million settlement by Nikola in 2021, the company’s shares have plummeted to less than $1. The sentencing of Trevor Milton is a stark reminder of the legal and ethical responsibilities that business leaders hold, especially in the burgeoning field of clean energy and technology. It underscores the critical importance of integrity and honesty in the pursuit of innovation and progress.


Flavie Du

Flavie Du was a senior writer at BTW media focused on blockchain and fintech investment. She graduated from King’s College London.

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