Two women have made formal sexual assault allegations against Nikola founder Trevor Milton and filed complaints against the 38-year-old billionaire of submitting sexual abuse to the Utah authorities when both women were 15 years old.
The allegations, which went back more than 15 years ago, follow Milton's resignation as Nikola’s CEO on September 21, after short seller Hindenburg Research published a damned report detailing allegations of fraud. The report has reportedly sparked investigations by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department into Milton and Nikola.
Since the Hindenburg report was released just over two weeks ago, shareholder lawsuits and personal attacks on social media have begun.
Through a spokesman, Milton strongly "denied" what he called false allegations and declined to go into the specific details of the women's complaints.
The turn for Milton was quick. The company went public on June 4th and Milton was one of Wall Street's newly minted billionaires under 40. Though Phoenix-based Nikola hadn't produced a single vehicle, days after going public, the startup was valued at $ 28.8 billion – a smidge more than Ford Motor – and Milton had short-term net worth of more than $ 8.6 billion U.S. dollar. General Motors signed an agreement with Nikola on September 8th to provide technology and build its electric pickups.
The Hindenburg report was followed by social media bombing allegations on September 21 by Milton's cousin Aubrey Ferrin Smith, who publicly accused Milton on Twitter and Facebook of having her bare breasts after a family funeral outside Salt Lake City in 1999 when she was 15 years old , and touched it was 17 years old.
Ferrin Smith filed a formal complaint with local police in Holladay, Utah, where the alleged attack took place on Saturday. Sgt. Melody Cutler of the Utah Unified Police Department confirmed that a report had been filed against Milton and the details repeated the allegations she made on Twitter.
CNBC does not report names of sexual assault victims and Cutler has declined to disclose the alleged victim's identity. Ferrin Smith and her lawyer have agreed to speak on the file about their case.
The second alleged attack, which has not yet been reported, occurred in 2004 when Milton was 22 years old and hired a then 15-year-old girl as an office assistant for a security firm he ran in St. George. Utah is in Utah, according to Craig Johnson, a former prosecutor who represents both women.
"My client's claim is that he digitally entered her vagina with his fingers, which is rape under Utah law. This is the charge that the police will investigate, in addition to violent sexual abuse, which is any of them extra touch of the vagina belongs to vagina during the attack, "Johnson said in an interview with CNBC.
St. George Police Department captain Mike Giles confirmed that a complaint was filed against a minor on Friday but declined to release further details.
"Mr. Milton strongly denies these false allegations. At no point in his life has Mr. Milton ever made inappropriate physical contact with anyone," said Brandon Messina, Milton's spokesman, in a statement emailed to CNBC.
Milton ran several companies before founding Nikola in 2010, including St. George Security & Alarms, which he founded in May 2004, according to state records. The office had a movie room where Milton invited his new assistant one evening, the woman said in an interview with CNBC. She said she agreed to stay because he paid her by the hour, she needed the money, and was dependent on him to drive home.
The now 32-year-old lawyer said she had tried to forget what happened for the past 16 years.
"I took the whole memory scenario to a dark place, locked it up and tried to just forget about it," she said.
Sometime that evening, Milton reportedly started groping the 15-year-old by first touching her breasts before putting his hands in her pants, she said. "I was just freezing," she said.
Because she didn't have a driver's license, she said she had to wait for it to finish.
"He was in a position of power and he was going to drive me home from that job and it happened at the end of one of the days I was working there and I was at his mercy because I could not go home until he was going to me go home, "she said.
She said she hadn't told anyone about the alleged attack at the time and quit shortly afterwards.
Years later, Milton's ex-boyfriend, Tyler Winona, claims that Milton bragged about the attack. Winona said the two were living together at the time and the couple bought a Lotus car together. On the way back to St. George by car around 2006, Winona said Milton described the incident.
"I remember where we were going, almost back to St. George, he told me that when (she) worked for him, he blackmailed her for leaving school and watching a movie in the background and cuddling with him . "Said Winona in an interview. Milton said he "took her virginity into the theater room," said Winona.
"He told me he fingered her," said Winona. "He went on and said I like young girls and I like virgins because they are naive."
Their relationship worsened soon after, and the two paths parted on bad terms, Winona said. He said the two quarreled over his then girlfriend and that friendship with Milton descended from there. Winona's mother called the Milton police at one point and Milton accused Winona of stealing a $ 1,500 radar detector, Winona said.
A friend of the alleged victim, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from Milton, said she knew he had made undesirable progress on her friend.
"I don't think I knew the details, but I knew he made sexual movements on her," she said in an interview with CNBC.
She said Milton also haunted her romantically, tried to cuddle her, kissed her, and finally invited her to Puerto Rico when she was 16 and he was nearing his mid-20s. He even asked her parents' permission to take her with him, "but he made me uncomfortable when he started talking about the shared bubble bath in Puerto Rico," she said, adding that she didn't go in the end.
Ferrin Smith said she was at one of her uncle's homes outside Salt Lake City, Utah for her grandfather's funeral in September 1999 when her alleged attack took place. The two cousins, who come from a large Mormon family in Utah, ended up watching TV alone in a room in the house, she said. Milton told her he was taking a massage class at school and convinced her to take off her top for a massage, she said in an interview with CNBC.
"He undid my bra as if without my consent and I froze," she said. She was watching TV when Milton reached out from behind and felt her breasts, she said.
"It just wasn't calculated because I thought this is a family member, he has the priesthood, he was going on a mission that he liked to talk about soon … I didn't even think I was just trusting him," she said.
The incident rocked her, and she said she told her best friend Libby Cannon Miller at the time. The teenage girls had an overnight stay a few weeks later when Cannon Miller heard Ferrin Smith cry after going to bed, Cannon Miller said in an interview.
"She told me when she was visiting the family that she and her cousin, a group of them were watching a movie and at one point some people left and her cousin asked if he could give her a massage," Cannon Miller said. "Then she told me that the massage went back to front and it happened without her consent."
Ferrin Smith also confided in her mother at the time, who confirmed the same report of events to CNBC. She also went to see Taylor Manning, Bishop Taylor Manning for the local Mormon Church in her hometown of Naperville, Ill., Who did not respond to messages left on a cell phone believed to be his number.
He also did not respond to a message from the Naperville Illinois Stake, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who refused to comment. Peter Schofield, an attorney for Kirton McConkie representing the LDS Church, did not return an email asking for comment on the matter. In 2017, when the #MeToo movement was in full force, Ferrin Smith leaked the report of her alleged attack on Facebook without identifying Milton's name.
"When I was attacked, I was 15 years old. I didn't want to tell anyone because I thought I should have known better," she wrote at the time. She said when she confronted him he said, "He only apologized because he was my cousin."
Johnson, who represents the women, said he doesn't think the statute of limitations applies to either case. Utah has since renounced most sexual crimes, he said.
In the St. George case, he said the alleged object rape offense was a first degree felony carrying a five-year sentence for life in prison. For violent sexual abuse, sentences ranging from one to 15 years are imposed, Johnson said.
Blake Nakamura, vice chairman of the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, said officials routinely investigate older allegations but whether they can move on to charges on a case-by-case basis.
Nakamura said older cases between two minors, rather than between an adult and a minor, are harder to detect. According to Nakamura, sexual crimes between 14 and 17 year olds are generally considered a misdemeanor.
He said there were circumstances under which a case could be opened but an investigation would have to be opened after the alleged victim filed a complaint with local authorities.
GM declined to say whether it was aware of allegations of fraud or sexual abuse related to Milton. Mary Barra, GM's CEO, earlier this month defended the company's $ 2 billion non-cash deal with Nikola, saying he took “reasonable care” before announcing the deal.
"Our transaction with Nikola is still ongoing," said a GM spokesman on Monday in an email. "We are continuing our discussions with Nikola and will provide further updates as needed or necessary."
The deal is expected to close on Wednesday.
GM was introduced to Nikola by Steve Girsky, former GM vice chairman, who succeeded Milton as Nikola’s executive chairman earlier this month. Girsky is a managing partner at VectoIQ, the special purpose vehicle that brought Nikola onto the stock exchange, and joined Nikola’s board of directors upon signing the contract.
Girsky previously said his company "showed up with an army of people to look into this matter" regarding Nikola, according to a webcast with an industry show called Autoline in early August.
"We really crawled over these guys. It wasn't comfortable at times," he said, later adding that he doesn't doubt there will be twists and turns here, but I've risked my reputation for this thing. "
Girsky did not return calls or texts for comment. VectoIQ did not return any emails. Nikola declined to comment.