Lawyers Argue Trevor Milton Shouldn’t Face Prison for Fraud

Court Hears Sentencing Arguments Following Conviction
Nikola founder Trevor Milton (center) exits court on Sept. 12.
Nikola founder Trevor Milton (center) exits court on Sept. 12. (Stephen Yang/Bloomberg News)

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NEW YORK — Lawyers for the founder of truck maker Nikola Corp. say he should not face incarceration.

The lawyers told a Manhattan federal court judge in a filing Nov. 14 that Trevor Milton never acted in a “greedy or mean-spirted way” as he built a pioneering company looking to take the battery- and hydrogen-electric trucking world to new heights.

“There is not a shred of evidence from trial or from Trevor’s personal life that he was ever motivated by spite, nastiness, ill will or cruelty,” they wrote.

Milton, 41, was convicted last year of fraud for duping investors with exaggerated claims about his company’s production of zero-emission trucks.

Milton is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 28. Court officials have calculated federal sentencing guidelines to recommend between 17½ years and 22 years in prison, although Milton’s lawyers object to the calculations, saying they substantially overstate the seriousness of the crimes.


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Milton never put Nikola`s customers at risk, the lawyers said.

“Whatever Trevor may have done, he did it openly and with the full knowledge of Nikola’s executives and board of directors. There were no fake documents or financial shenanigans, and there were no threats to anyone to keep quiet,” the lawyers said.

In seeking leniency, Milton’s lawyers wrote that Milton has suffered enough after he was the subject of an episode of CNBC’s “American Greed” and after being the focus of a podcast by The Wall Street Journal titled “The Unraveling of Trevor Milton,” along with news reports, including by the Associated Press.

They said Milton had also been subjected to “shocking and unspeakable harassment online” and had lost some of his closest friends and colleagues, including those who helped him create Nikola.

“Trevor has been ousted from the very community he created. His reputation is in tatters. The result has been depression and loss for Trevor,” they said.

They urged the sentencing judge to consider that Nikola remains a “real company with real products that employ proven technologies.”

In 2020, Nikola’s stock price plunged and investors suffered heavy losses as reports questioned Milton’s claims that the company had already produced zero-emission 18-wheel trucks.

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At trial, prosecutors said that Nikola — founded by Milton in a Utah basement six years earlier — falsely claimed to have built its own revolutionary truck when it had merely put Nikola’s logo on a General Motors Corp. product.

The company paid $125 million last year to settle a civil case against it by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Nikola, which continues to operate from an Arizona headquarters, didn’t admit any wrongdoing.

Prosecutors are expected to submit sentencing arguments this week.