US judge rejects Nikola founder's juror bias claim

FILE PHOTO: Trevor Milton, founder and former-CEO of Nikola Corp., exits court in New York City

By Jody Godoy

(Reuters) - Nikola founder Trevor Milton lost his bid for a new trial on charges of defrauding investors in the electric vehicle company on Wednesday, after a federal judge rejected his argument that a juror was secretly biased against the rich.

U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos said the juror's online posts did not show she lied about her views during jury selection.

"One can simultaneously lament wealth inequality and believe that corporate executives are not more inclined than others to break the law, are 'worth' the amount that they earn, and are otherwise entitled to a fair trial," the judge said.

Attorneys for Milton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Milton was convicted in October after prosecutors said he became a billionaire by lying to investors since 2019 about the electric- and hydrogen-powered truck maker's technology.

Prosecutors accused Milton of using social media and news-media interviews to make false and misleading claims, including that Nikola built an electric- and hydrogen-powered "Badger" pickup from the "ground up."

In December, Milton's attorneys raised concerns about the juror's posts, including one that read, "Three words: tax the rich," and compared Jeff Bezos' and Mark Zuckerberg's 12-figure fortunes with minimum wage rates in the United States.

They said the juror had lied when she answered "no" when asked if she used social media.

Ramos said it appeared the juror had not intentionally concealed her social media use because she had disclosed using YouTube.

The judge also rejected Milton's argument that prosecutors had failed to prove their case.

Milton's sentencing on one count of securities fraud and two counts of wire fraud is scheduled for Nov. 28.

The case is U.S. v. Milton, No. 21-00478, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.

(Reporting by Jody Godoy in New York; Editing by Andy Sullivan)