Nikola Corp. founder and former CEO Trevor Milton charged with fraud

Phoenix-based Nikola Corp. is trying to put some distance between the company and its founder and former Executive Chairman Trevor Milton after federal prosecutors on Thursday charged him with lying to investors in a bid to drive up the price of Nikola shares.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York charged Milton with three fraud counts for allegedly misrepresenting various business operations. The grand jury indictment was unsealed Thursday morning.

Milton’s legal team responded with a statement declaring his innocence and calling the indictment “a new low in the government’s efforts to criminalize lawful business conduct.”

Nikola officials also issued a statement underscoring that Milton resigned last Sept. 20 and “has not been involved in the company’s operations or communications since that time,” according to a prepared statement. “Today’s government actions are against Mr. Milton individually and not against the company.”

Milton, 39, surrendered Thursday and was released on $100 million bail, according to media reports. He pleaded not guilty.