Nikola will pay $125 million to settle a securities fraud investigation.
The settlement comes months after federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against the founder of the electric truck company.
Trevor Milton, Nikola’s founder and former chief, at an event in Italy in 2019.Credit…Massimo Pinca/Reuters
The fledgling electric truck manufacturer Nikola agreed to pay $125 million to settle an investigation into allegations that the company and its founder had defrauded investors by making misleading claims about its products and technology, securities regulators said on Tuesday.
Nikola is settling the case, with the Securities and Exchange Commission, nearly five months after federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Trevor Milton, the company’s founder and former chief executive, who has pleaded not guilty. The S.E.C. also filed civil fraud charges against Mr. Milton.
“Nikola Corporation is responsible both for Milton’s allegedly misleading statements and for other alleged deceptions, all of which falsely portrayed the true state of the company’s business and technology,” Gurbir Grewal, director of the S.E.C.’s enforcement division, said in a statement.
The S.E.C., in a civil order resolving the investigation, found that Mr. Milton embarked on a campaign on Twitter and in news releases to pump up the price of Nikola’s shares with a series of misleading statements. The regulator said Nikola compounded that by making its own misleading statements about the refueling times for its planned products.
The company, which was not immediately available for comment, neither admitted nor denied the allegations in the civil order. The company is cooperating with the S.E.C.’s open investigation.
Last month, the company said it expected to reach a $125 million settlement with the S.E.C. and would “seek reimbursement” from Mr. Milton for any costs associated with the investigation.
Nikola is the latest company that merged with a cash-rich special purpose acquisition company to either be charged with making false statements to investors or being investigated for potential wrongdoing.
SPACs are speculative businesses that raise money from investors in initial public offerings and then go searching for operating companies to buy. The market for these investment vehicles has been red-hot in the past two years — they have raised nearly $200 billion from hedge funds and other investors.
The S.E.C. has opened a number of investigations into claims made by some of these companies during the merger process. Regulators have argued that hedge fund investors in SPACs and the sponsors of these deals fare far better than retail investors who often buy shares in the open market after a deal is announced.
Mr. Milton resigned from Nikola in September 2020, several months after the merger with a SPAC called VectoIQ was completed. The S.E.C., in the civil complaint filed last summer against Mr. Milton, said his misleading statements about the company’s prospects helped inflate the stock, enabling him to reap “tens of millions of dollars in personal benefits.”
Last week, lawyers for Mr. Milton filed a motion in federal court in Manhattan to dismiss several of the criminal charges against him.
Nikola’s stock closed on Monday at $9.25, down from a high of more than $60 in the summer of 2020.
Restaurants, pubs and retail stores in Britain are urgently callingfor more government assistance, complaining that stepped-up restrictions announced this month to combat a Covid surge are choking off business.
Organizations representing more than 100,000 businesses sent an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday, saying that more tax relief and grants were needed.
Although the surge of coronavirus casesbrought on by the fast-moving Omicron variant has not yet resulted in the kind of strict lockdown imposed by the Dutch government over the weekend, British businesses argue that the combination of mask mandates, vaccination requirements and uncertainty during the peak holiday season imperils their survival.
The retail, hospitality and leisure sectors “are teetering on the brink,” said Matthew Sims, who helped orchestrate the campaign and leads a business improvement group in Croydon, south of London. Calling the current aid insufficient, Mr. Sims said that “the measures were put in place for an open economy that was starting to recover; we are no longer in that space.”
Restaurants, pubs and bars have said that since the government added a new series of restrictions, known as Plan B, on Dec. 8 as a response to the highly transmissible Omicron variant, dinner and party cancellations have been rolling in and foot traffic has disappeared in some areas.
At Gordon’s Wine Bar in central London, the festive season was beginning to take hold — and then it wasn’t.
“You could feel Christmas was coming, the buzz, the lights were on,” said Amanda Whiteside, the administration manager of Gordon’s, which describes itself as the city’s oldest wine bar. Before the surge gained momentum, it was common to find every table in its cavelike cellar and on its outdoor patio full and a long line of customers waiting to get in.
“And then it was gone,” Ms. Whiteside said. “It was very dramatic.”
Customers thinned out and several staff members got Covid, she said. Gordon’s is now offering only outside service, and Ms. Whiteside estimates that sales are down about 25 percent.
The Coach and Horses pub in Soho is similarly contending with fewer customers and sick staff. Last week, business was off by a third of what would normally be expected, while on Monday, it fell “off the edge of a cliff,” said Alison Ross, the manager.
Three of the four full-time staff members and two of the four part-timers had contracted Covid. Ms. Ross has hired temporary help and plans to close several hours early on a couple of days.
The Coach and Horses is one of roughly 400 pubs owned by Fuller, Smith & Turner, which started out as a brewing company. Simon Emeny, the chief executive, has called on the Johnson government for more aid.
“We are right back to where we were in March 2020 with the government keeping hospitality open, while effectively telling the public not to socialize,” Mr. Emeny said in statement. “December should be our busiest trading period — and the revenue generated during this time is crucial for the sector.”
The company has temporarily closed 20 pubs, a spokeswoman said.
Ms. Whiteside at Gordon’s said that the government had previously been generous with support, but she was uncertain of what it should do next. “I wouldn’t want to be in those shoes,” she said. “They’re in a no-win position.”
Jurors are set to deliberate for a second day on Tuesday in the fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos.
Ms. Holmes, who has pleaded not guilty, faces 11 counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Closing arguments in the case concluded last week. On Monday, jurors began deliberating at around 8:30 a.m. They left the courthouse around 4 p.m.
If the jury of eight men and four women does not reach a verdict on Tuesday, additional time is scheduled for Thursday. Further days will be scheduled on Thursday if needed.
The deliberations are the final stage of the nearly four-month trial, which has drawn long lines of spectators eager to watch a high-profile Silicon Valley entrepreneur defend herself in a case viewed as a referendum on start-up culture.
Before her company faltered, Ms. Holmes, 37, exemplified the genius founder. She founded Theranos in 2003, dropped out of Stanford University the next year to focus on the company and raised $945 million from investors. At its peak, Theranos was valued at $9 billion.
Ms. Holmes also sold her entrepreneurial vision and styled herself as a Steve Jobs-like founder, down to wearing a uniform of black turtlenecks. She became a billionaire on paper, graced the covers of many magazines and was widely celebrated.
But a 2015 Wall Street Journal investigation found that Theranos had inflated many of its claims about its technology and business relationships. The company officially shut down in 2018.
A verdict in the case boils down to intent. Prosecutors argued that Ms. Holmes purposely deceived investors and patients as she sought investments and business for her start-up. The defense sought to paint her as a well-meaning entrepreneur whose failure was not a crime.
Testimony from Ms. Holmes anchored the defense’s case. She blamed senior lab employees for her company’s problems, argued that her own actions were misunderstood and said she believed the claims she had made about Theranos’s technology. She also said Ramesh Balwani, her ex-boyfriend and Theranos’s former chief operating officer, had emotionally and physically abused her, accusations he has denied.
At least 132 employees at SpaceX’s Southern California headquarters have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to information posted on a Los Angeles County website. It is the highest number of cases currently reported among private companies in the United States.
The outbreak erupted as a wave of infections spread through the country, driven mainly by the Omicron virus variant, and as the private space company founded and led by Elon Musk is conducting a rapid series of rocket launches at sites in California and Florida.
About 6,000 employees at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., build and manufacture SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets and Crew Dragon capsules. The rockets are the dominant launch vehicle used by private companies and governments to put satellites in orbit, and the capsules are NASA’s primary vehicle for carrying astronauts to the International Space Station. The company’s mission control room, where engineers are frequently shown during live video streams of launches, seated behind computer monitors wearing masks, is also in Hawthorne.
The outbreak at the headquarters, reported earlier by The Los Angeles Times based on data posted Sunday by Los Angeles County’s public health department, comes at a busy time for the company.
SpaceX broke a company record on Sunday for the quickest turnaround time between two missions, launching a Turkish satellite to space from Kennedy Space Center in Florida just 18 hours after launching 52 of the company’s Starlink internet satellites to orbit on Saturday from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Another mission from Florida is scheduled for Tuesday morning, sending a cargo capsule full of supplies and research to the space station for NASA, though local weather appears unfavorable.
SpaceX did not respond to a request for comment.
During an earlier phase of the pandemic, Mr. Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, balked at restrictions in California meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus. In May last year, Mr. Musk, also the chief executive of Tesla, the electric carmaker, defied a public health order by resuming production at the company’s Fremont factory despite county restrictions that would have prevented employees from working.
On the day after Thanksgiving this year, Mr. Musk stoked fears of bankruptcy for SpaceX in emails sent to employees, urging them to work through engineering challenges related to the development of Starship, the company’s next-generation rocket.
The pandemic has frequently disrupted spaceflight activities, costing NASA nearly $3 billion from delays, according to an internal report, and a European-Russian mission to Mars had to be postponed until 2022 early in 2020. Nonetheless, SpaceX has sustained its operations throughout the pandemic, including resuming astronaut launches from American soil in May 2020.
Mr. Musk himself tested positive for the virus in November 2020 and was precluded from attending a launch of four astronauts to space for NASA from the Kennedy Space Center.