Spare a thought for the founder of electric truck maker Nikola, poor Trevor Milton, who will be sentenced next week after being found guilty of fraud. Milton faces decades behind bars, with prosecutors branding him a “conman” who lied about Nikola, which was once valued as high as $34 billion (€31 billion), compared to just $1.1 billion today.
In a novel defence, Milton’s lawyers say he shouldn’t go to prison, portraying him as a naive soul who “sees the world differently than most other people”. Any “misstatements” were not “sinister” but “the product of his deeply held optimism”. Raised in the “American west”, he was “more skilled with cattle and horses than with regulators and investors”.
His “lack of corporate and financial sophistication” is evidenced by Milton asking a Nikola executive to phone the Nasdaq on the day the company went public, as he was worried the exchange was “broken” because the stock had fallen. Milton “knew nothing of securities laws”, but had the “self-awareness” to recognise this, and asked Nikola to provide him with “a good SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] attorney”.
Indeed. Everyone knows requesting a top-notch lawyer is basically code for saying: “I have no intention of breaking any rules.”
His lawyers also contend that Milton is “childlike in his passions” and his words may thus “come off at times differently than he intends”. Milton is 41. “Where others see darkness, Trevor sees light,” his lawyers add. “Where others see despair, Trevor sees hope. Where others see impossibility, Trevor sees possibility. Where others see problems, Trevor sees solutions.”
Reading that would make some consider cranking up the prison sentence.