Jury selection began Monday in the fraud trial of Trevor Milton, the founder and former executive chairman of Nikola Corp accused of lying about the electric truck startup’s vehicles.
Milton was indicted last year on charges of securities fraud and wire fraud. Authorities have accused Milton, of Oakley, Utah, of making false claims about the company’s technology, and said it led to some investors losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Milton pleaded not guilty, and has been free on $100 million bail.
Prosecutors allege that Milton’s false claims included saying an early prototype of an electric truck could be driven when it only came close because company engineers rolled it down a hill for a commercial.
A 2020 report from Hindenburg Research claimed the company’s success amounted to “an intricate fraud” and based on “an ocean of lies,” including stenciling the words “hydrogen electric” on the side of a vehicle that was actually powered by natural gas.
The Securities and Exchange Commission filed separate civil charges.
Milton started Nikola in 2015 and announced that its stock would be publicly listed in 2020.
He resigned in September of that year after the company had signed a $2 billion agreement with General Motors and following a report making allegations of fraud. At that time, Nikola said the report was filled with misleading statements and accusations.
GM exited its equity stake in the startup in 2021 after Nikola shares cratered, reported Reuters at the time. Nikola’s stock reached a high of nearly $66 in mid-2020, but have since fallen to less than $6.
The company paid $125 million last year to settle a civil case against it from the SEC. Nikola didn’t admit to any wrongdoing in making that agreement.
In January, the Nikola dropped a $2 billion patent lawsuit in which the EV startup alleges Tesla stole the design of its Nikola One electric truck for the Tesla Semi, which was unveiled in 2017, reported Bloomberg.