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Nikola Founder Trevor Milton Gets Similar Prison Sentence to Defrauder of Holocaust Victim

A jury found the EV executive guilty of multiple fraud counts last year.

A Nikola truck.
Heatmap Illustration/Nikola

Yesterday, a federal judge in Manhattan sentenced Nikola founder Trevor Milton to four years in prison for lying to his investors about his electric truck startup’s prospects and progress. Last year, a jury found Milton guilty on one count of securities fraud and two counts of wire fraud.

Prosecutors had asked for an 11-year prison term and a $5 million fine. While Milton will be required to pay a $1 million fine, plus an amount of restitution to be determined later, the judge in the case, Edgardo Ramos, said he took to heart the letters he'd received from Milton’s friends and family attesting to his character. “There were people I’ve sentenced whose offenses were substantially less, but who looked their victims in the eye as they took their last dollar,” Ramos said. Nevertheless, he added, “real people were hurt by your actions.”

How much people were hurt by Milton’s alleged fabrications was a matter of contention in the trial. Prosecutors claimed retail investors lost $660 million as a result of Milton’s false statements — comparable to the $600 million lost by venture capital firms and other bigwigs in the Theranos bust but far less than the $16 billion-worth of online currency that collapsed along with the crypto exchange FTX, of which only $7.3 billion has been recovered so far.

Nikola went public as part of 2020’s SPAC boom, but shortly after, unnamed insiders told Bloomberg News that Milton had been exaggerating what his prototypes could do. At the 2016 unveiling of the Nikola One, a purportedly hydrogen-powered big rig, Milton told onlookers, “We’re going to try to keep people from driving off. This thing fully functions and works.” But people familiar with the set-up for the event told Bloomberg reporters that the engine was missing key components — including a hydrogen fuel cell.

“I never deceived anyone,” Milton told Bloomberg. “There wasn’t a fuel cell in the truck. We never claimed there was,” although the model in question had “H2 Zero Emission Hydrogen Electric” emblazoned on its side. At the unveiling, Milton said deliveries of the Nikola One would begin in 2020; by 2020, the company still hadn’t published production plans.

To be fair, scaling an electric vehicle company is extremely difficult. As my colleague Robinson Meyer described it, there comes a put in every EV company's development cycle when “it faces a hold-your-breath moment where its high costs can overwhelm its meager production.” This, he said, is the “valley of death,” which claimed electric bus-maker Proterra earlier this year.

Perhaps these difficulties contributed to Ramos’s apparent leniency in sentencing, although a quick look at his past cases shows that he wasn’t exaggerating about his past cases. In 2018, he sentenced a 73-year-old found guilty of running a $220 million payday lending scheme to 10 years in prison, and a couple months ago he sentenced the co-founder of a fake cryptocurrency to 20 years in prison and ordered him to forfeit $300 million. The coup de grâce, though, seems to be the case of a Florida woman named Peaches Stergo who pleaded guilty to defrauding a 87-year-old Holocaust survivor of $2.8 million. Ramos also sentenced her to four years in prison, plus restitution.

Green

Jillian Goodman

Jillian is Heatmap's deputy editor. Before that, she was opinion editor at The Information and deputy editor at Bloomberg Green. Read More

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Sparks

This Chicken Named Potato Will Teach Your Kids About Climate Change

A chicken from the future, to be clear.

Future Chicken.
Heatmap Illustration/CBC, Getty Images

If I told you there was a chicken named Potato who was going to teach our kids about climate change, would you think I was kidding? Either way, I’m here to inform you that Future Chicken, an “ECOtainment platform” co-created by Catherine Winder and Annabel Slaight, launched last year, including original content like a TV show that airs on CBC and YouTube, games, and a podcast, all aimed at warding off climate doom and instead highlighting climate solutions.

Winder and Slaight have, to put it mildly, impressive resumes, with Slaight having been an executive producer of The Big Comfy Couch and Winder a force behind multiple Angry Birds movies. The show’s premise is fun, and was actually thought up by kids. The main character is a chicken (named Potato) from the year 2050, a time when climate change has seemingly been solved. She travels back and forth between the future and the present, sometimes talking about the solutions of her time.

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Sparks

Uncle Sam Is Helping Americans Buy 675 Electric Cars a Day

New Treasury data just dropped.

An EV charger.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Earlier this week, I was thinking to myself, how are we going to know how many people are actually taking advantage of the tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act?

When I put the question out on Twitter — I mean, X — I heard from Sam Hughes, a researcher inside the Treasury who pointed me to a section of the department’s website that contains data on tax credits by year. The problem is, it hasn’t been updated since 2020. But then today, as if to answer my prayers, I received a taste of the data I was looking for in my inbox.

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Sparks

Get a Grip, New York. It’s Just Snow.

We have forgotten how to winter.

New York City during a snowstorm.
Heatmap Illustration/Library of Congress

It is a time-honored tradition for Americans who live north of the 39th parallel to mock cities like Washington, D.C., and Atlanta when they shut down over a little bit of snow. It is with great regret, then, that I write now to tell you that New York City has fallen. No longer will it be acceptable for us to roll our eyes at Southerners who abandon their cars over a mere inch of snow; no, we in fact deserve to be razzed by New Englanders and Minnesotans, our former partners in razzing. New Yorkers have become, in effect, weak. We’ve forgotten how to winter.

Maybe it’s because it has been 745 days since our last significant snowfall, or maybe it’s because, at some point, we started to lean into our designation as a “subtropical” climate. But no — I won’t make excuses, either. Outside my window in western Queens, the sidewalks are slushy but navigable, the flakes are light, and the city has lost its mind.

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