Nikola Founder’s Jurors May See ‘Truck Rolling Down Hill’ Video at Trial

Nikola Founder’s Jurors May See ‘Truck Rolling Down Hill’ Video at Trial
Trevor Milton (L), founder and former-CEO of Nikola Corp., exits the Manhattan Federal Courthouse following an appearance in New York on July 29, 2021. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

NEW YORK—Jurors at Nikola Corp. founder Trevor Milton’s fraud trial starting next week will be allowed to watch a marketing video that prosecutors said shows a truck appearing to drive on its own power when it was actually rolling down a hill, a judge ruled on Thursday.

The ruling came after U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos also rejected Milton’s motions to dismiss an indictment accusing the former billionaire of lying to investors about the electric- and hydrogen-powered automaker’s progress in developing its technology starting in 2019.

Milton, 40, has pleaded not guilty. Jury selection is expected to begin on Monday for his trial, which is expected to last five weeks.

Prosecutors said Milton’s misleading statements included assertions that Nikola had early success in creating a “Nikola One” semi-truck prototype he knew did not work.

Audrey Strauss, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan at the time of Milton’s July 2021 arrest, had said the closest the Nikola One ever came to driving was when engineers rolled a prototype down a hill so it could be filmed for a commercial.

Milton’s lawyer Bradley Bondi had sought to have the 2017 video excluded from the trial, saying it was filmed before the alleged wrongdoing described in the indictment, and that Milton had acknowledged the truck had not operated under its own power.

“They want to bring it in because they want to inflame the jury,” Bondi told the judge, calling the video a “sideshow circus.”

Ramos sided with prosecutors, calling the video “direct evidence” of the charges against Milton.

Nikola has said an outside party shot the video for a commercial, and the truck was never described as “under its own propulsion.”

Last December, Nikola agreed to pay $125 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission civil charges that it misled investors about its technology and prospects. It did not admit or deny wrongdoing.

By Luc Cohen