Trevor Milton rakes in $49M in sale of 3.5M Nikola shares

Former Nikola Corp. (NASDAQ: NKLA) Executive Chairman and founder Trevor Milton pocketed about $49 million from selling 3.5 million shares in the startup electric truck company last week.

Milton is the subject of federal investigations over fraud claims alleged by a short seller that drove the company’s stock price to crater last fall. It is trading in the teens from a high of more than $90 a share following its public debut in June 2020.

With about 20.1% of shares outstanding, Milton remains the company’s largest shareholder. Based on Thursday’s closing price of $13.91, his stake is worth just under $1.1 billion. Milton was listed as one of the 12 youngest billionaires on the Forbes 400 list last September. At the time, his personal worth was $3.3 billion.

Milton’s sale, and the intention by South Korean solar panel maker Hanwha to sell half its 22.1 million shares, come as Nikola is planning to sell new shares. The new offering in the next 12-18 months would presumably dilute the company’s 391.5 million current shares 

Trying to move on

Nikola is trying to move past Milton’s flamboyant leadership. The company acknowledges Milton made inaccurate statements about Nikola’s technology prowess and achievements. Milton resigned last September after a report by Hindenburg Research claimed Nikola was “an ocean of lies.”

Milton has been in seclusion since his resignation. Fallout from the report ended a partnership with General Motors (NYSE: GM). The automaker planned to take an 11% equity stake in Nikola and manufacture its Badger electric pickup truck. 

He has not spoken publicly since his departure. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) are investigating Milton and other Nikola executives. No civil or criminal charges have been filed. 

Nikola so far has spent more than $27 million defending Milton and itself, according to its most recent quarterly filing with the SEC. In the filing, Nikola highlighted nine statements Milton made that an internal investigation found were inaccurate in whole or in part.

“We hope that by putting it out there in plain language, people can put it in its place and we can move on,” CEO Mark Russell said in a recent FreightWaves interview.

Refocused priorities

Nikola is refocusing on specific timelines for battery-electric trucks, fuel cell electric trucks and profitably making hydrogen. Nikola dropped the Badger from its plans after the GM deal fell apart. It may still purchase GM’s Hydrotec fuel cells in the future. 

Nikola took a financial charge to close its nascent Powersports business that included battery-electric off-road vehicles and watercraft. It is open to disposing of a military version of its four-seat off-road EV.

“Those things are no longer distractions for us,” Russell said. “They never were a priority.”

Second major partner cuts stake as Nikola plans $100M sale of new shares

News analysis: Nikola tormentor Hindenburg Research opens fire on Lordstown Motors

No partners, no problem: Nikola may do hydrogen stations solo

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.