Nikola founder seeks new trial, says juror concealed bias against wealthy

Dec 15 (Reuters) – Nikola Corp (NKLA.O) founder Trevor Milton asked a judge in New York on Thursday to overturn his conviction on charges of defrauding investors in the electric vehicle company, saying a juror who decided the case concealed her bias against the ultrawealthy.

Milton told U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in court papers that the juror’s Twitter and Facebook pages were “riddled with attacks on wealthy executives” despite denying during jury selection that she used social media.

A Manhattan federal jury convicted Milton at a trial in October, after prosecutors said Milton, 40, became a billionaire by lying to investors about the electric- and hydrogen-powered truck maker’s technology starting in November 2019.

Prosecutors accused Milton of using social media and interviews on television, podcasts and in print to make false and misleading claims, including that Nikola built an electric- and hydrogen-powered “Badger” pickup from the “ground up.”

At trial, Milton was convicted on one count of securities fraud and two counts of wire fraud. He was acquitted on an additional count of securities fraud.

In court papers on Thursday, Milton said that one juror had said during jury selection that she did not use social media and got her news via YouTube.

But a review of what Milton said were her social media accounts implied that she read many news sources and showed that she had posted about income inequality, Milton said.

“Three words: tax the rich,” read one post that compared Jeff Bezos’ and Mark Zuckerberg’s 12-figure fortunes with minimum wage rates in the United States, according to court papers.

If the judge does not grant a new trial, he should hold a hearing to question the juror about whether she lied in court, Milton wrote.

Milton also asked the judge to grant him acquittal on the wire fraud count related to investors, saying prosecutors had not proved their case.

Reporting by Jody Godoy in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Lisa Shumaker