Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy


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.

Jillian Goodman profile image

Jillian Goodman

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

Donald Trump and Jaws.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Former President Trump wants to know: Would you rather be electrocuted or eaten by a shark?

On Sunday, during a rally in Las Vegas, the Republican nominee floated the question for what is at least the second time this campaign season (an odd choice, perhaps, given that Nevada is hardly shark territory, and therefore his supporters there are unlikely to have given the question much thought).

Keep reading...Show less

Tornado Alley Is Moving East

New research finally sheds some light on what the heck is happening.

A tornado.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

If hurricanes, wildfires, heat, and floods are the Big Four of extreme weather in America, then tornadoes are perhaps the equivalent of the National Bowling League.

That’s not for lack of fatalities — tornadoes kill more people annually than hurricanes, per the 30-year average — nor for their lack of star power (see: The Wizard of Oz, Sharknado, Twister, and my most highly anticipated movie of the year, Twisters). But when it comes to the study of extreme weather, robust, detailed data on tornadic supercells has been described as “largely absent,” at least compared to the scholarship on their more popular meteorological counterparts.

Keep reading...Show less

A Swiss Army Knife for Clean Energy

These can really do it all — almost.

A dam.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Before and for the first year or so after the Inflation Reduction Act, clean energy in the United States was largely developed under the aegis of two tax credits: the Production Tax Credit, which primarily useful for wind power, and the Investment Tax Credit, which is primarily used for solar power. (The actual eligibility for each tax credit for each technology has changed various times over the years, but that’s the gist.)

Starting in 2025, however, and lasting (absent any change in the law) through at least 2032, that tax credit regime will be made “technology neutral.” Goodbye, existing credits with their limited applicability. Hello, new tax credits that apply to “any clean energy facility that achieves net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” according to a release issued Wednesday by the Treasury Department.

“For too long, the U.S. solar and wind markets have been hampered by uncertainty due to the on-again-off-again nature of key tax credits,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on a call with reporters. “Periods of indecision and the credits being repeatedly allowed to elect to lapse made it too difficult for companies to plan and invest in clean energy projects.”

Keep reading...Show less