Attorneys representing Trevor Milton, the founder of truckmaker Nikola Corp., are contending that he should not be subjected to imprisonment, asserting that his fraud conviction lacks the parallels that led to Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes’ incarceration.
In a recent filing to a Manhattan federal court, the legal team emphasized that Milton’s actions were not characterized by greed or malice while establishing a groundbreaking company aimed at advancing battery- and hydrogen-electric trucking.
“Trevor Milton sees the world differently than most other people. Where others see darkness, Trevor sees light. Where others see despair, Trevor sees hope. Where others see impossibility, Trevor sees possibility. Where others see problems, Trevor sees solutions,” the lawyers wrote in their argument.
According to the lawyers, there is no indication, either from the trial or Milton’s personal life, that he was motivated by spite, nastiness, ill will, or cruelty. Contrary to the case of Holmes, who is currently serving an 11-year sentence for defrauding investors in Theranos, the defense argues that Milton, aged 41, did not put Nikola’s customers at risk. They pointed out that Holmes promoted and utilized blood-testing technology that she knew to be unreliable, putting individuals at medical risk.
“In contrast, 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,” they added.
Milton was convicted last year of fraud for making exaggerated claims about his company’s production of zero-emission trucks, and his sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 28. The federal sentencing guidelines recommend a term between 17 1/2 years and 22 years in prison, a calculation that Milton’s lawyers dispute, arguing it overstates the severity of the crimes.
In seeking leniency, the defense highlighted the personal toll on Milton, who has faced public scrutiny following media coverage, including an episode of CNBC’s “American Greed” and a podcast by The Wall Street Journal titled “The Unraveling of Trevor Milton.” They also noted the loss of close friends and colleagues and online harassment.
Despite these challenges, they underscored that Nikola remains a “real company with real products that employ proven technologies,” urging the sentencing judge not to draw parallels with the Holmes case.
“Trevor has his faults, but if he is made aware of them, he will make the effort to correct them,” the lawyers cited. “For these reasons, and for the reasons set forth below, we respectfully ask the Court to impose a sentence of probation, which will allow Trevor to stay home with his family and serve his community.”
During Milton’s trial, prosecutors alleged that Nikola, founded in a Utah basement six years earlier, falsely claimed to have built its own revolutionary truck, when in fact it had merely affixed Nikola’s logo to a General Motors product. In 2020, Nikola’s stock price plummeted, causing significant losses for investors, and the company paid $125 million to settle a civil case with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Nikola, which continues its operations from an Arizona headquarters, did not admit any wrongdoing in the settlement.
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