Nikola In Pilot Testing With Walmart, SAIA As Founder Awaits Sentencing In Fraud Case

Nikola In Pilot Testing With Walmart, SAIA As Founder Awaits Sentencing In Fraud Case

By Terri Jo Neff |

Just weeks after its founder was convicted of federal fraud charges, Phoenix-based Nikola Corp. (NKLA) announced Third Quarter 2022 financial results showing higher than expected revenues and a narrower than expected quarterly loss.

On Thursday, Nikola Corp. reported revenues of $24.2 million, GAAP net loss per share of $0.54, and non-GAAP net loss per share of $0.28. The company also revealed it produced 75 heavy-duty Nikola Tre battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) at its plant in Coolidge, outpacing the 50 BEVs which came off the assembly line last quarter.  

Nikola also announced pilot testing of its Tre BEVs is underway with Walmart and SAIA, and that 63 of its trucks have been delivered to dealers.

“During the third quarter we continued to produce and deliver Nikola Tre BEVs to dealers and customers,” said new Nikola President, Michael Lohscheller. “We also made significant advancements in developing our energy business, announcing our intent to develop access of up to 300 metric-tons per day of hydrogen and up to 60 stations by 2026, and our collaboration with E.ON in Europe.”

Founded in late 2014 by Trevor Milton, Nikola seeks to transform the transportation industry by designing and manufacturing zero-emission BEVs  and hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). The company is also a leader in EV drivetrains, vehicle components, energy storage systems, and hydrogen station infrastructure.

As AZ Free News previously reported, Milton was stripped of any role in the company in 2020 following an investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission into allegations Milton repeatedly lied to investors, prospective investors, and the public about Nikola’s research and development progress as well as sales contracts in an effort to increase the company’s share price.

Then-CEO Mark Russell sought to move Nikola forward from the scandal, agreeing the company would pay a $125 million civil penalty to the SEC. Russell retired this summer, putting Nikola in the hands of Lohscheller, who previously served as CFO for several top automakers, including Mitsubishi Motors, Volkswagen Group USA, and German-based Opel/Vauxhall. Lohscheller was promoted in 2017 as CEO of Opel, where he helped plan the company’s move toward being an electric-only brand by the end of this decade.

Meanwhile, company officials fully cooperated with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York which took Milton to trial Sept. 12 on four fraud charges.  The nearly month-long trial ended with the jury deliberating for less than seven hours before convicting Milton of two counts of wire fraud and one count of securities fraud.

A not-guilty verdict was handed down on another count of securities fraud.

Milton, who avoided pretrial detention by posting a $100 million bond, was granted permission by a federal judge to remain out of custody his until Jan. 27, 2023, sentencing. He is facing up to 20 years in prison, with prosecutors calling for a “significant” prison term in light of numerous warnings to Milton about his misrepresentations.

Nikola has recently announced several highpoints, including:

  • Acquiring land in Buckeye for the construction of a hydrogen production hub with project partners. The company is working through zoning and permitting processes and has already ordered some long lead-time equipment;
  • A multi-year purchase order for 100 Tre BEVs by Zeem Solutions, which specializes in fleet truck leasing;
  • A stock-only purchase of California-based Romeo Power, which is expected to result in a large savings for Nikola on battery-pack costs;
  • An intent to develop access of up to 300 metric-tons per day of hydrogen and up to 60 dispensing stations by 2026. The company sees potential benefits from the Inflation Reduction Act.
Ducey Signs Bill To Address Human Smuggling, Make Some Crimes Against Kids Prison Mandatory

Ducey Signs Bill To Address Human Smuggling, Make Some Crimes Against Kids Prison Mandatory

By Terri Jo Neff |

The sentencing options for several felonies related to child sex abuse, human trafficking, and human smuggling will be significantly restricted in Arizona later this year when new legislation takes effect.

On Thursday, Rep. Leo Biasiucci celebrated the enactment of House Bill 2696 which reforms the state’s sentencing ranges for some of the most horrific crimes against children. It triples the length of prison sentences for some crimes against children under age 15 while prohibiting judges from placing someone on probation instead of in prison for other offenses, including human trafficking and human smuggling. 

“I’m proud to have sponsored this important legislation to ensure that anyone convicted of these heinous crimes serves mandatory prison time with no chance of parole,”said Biasiucci, the House Republican Majority Whip. “Iappreciate the strong support of Governor Ducey and my fellow legislators. These new laws will combat these crimes and make Arizona safer for everyone.”

Under HB2696, the sentencing range for the continuous sexual abuse of a child under age 15 changes from 13 to 27 years to 39 to 81 years. And someone who has a prior felony involving various forms of child abuse would have a sentencing range of 69 to 111 years if later convicted of the continuous sexual abuse of someone under age 15.

Judges will also see new restrictions when sentencing a defendant convicted of luring a minor for sexual exploitation if the minor is under age 15, aggravated luring when the minor is under age 15, as well as sexual extortion.  Such offenses will become prison mandatory and ineligible for probation, suspension of sentence, pardon, or most early releases from confinement.

Luring involves offering or soliciting sexual conduct with another person knowing or having reason to know that the other person is a minor, while aggravated luring involves the use of an electronic communication device “to transmit at least one visual depiction of material that is harmful to minors for the purpose of initiating or engaging in communication” which offers or solicits sexual conduct with a recipient the sender has reason to believe is a minor.

Although luring and aggravated luring often involve online predators, those crimes are also frequently committed by young adults and teens. In addition, the offense does not require an actual victim who is a minor. A conviction can be obtained on the basis of offers or communications with someone the person have reason to believe is under 15, even if that person is a peace officer.

But HB2696 also targets those involved in criminal activity involving human trafficking and human smuggling. Once effective, the new law will allow prosecutors in the state’s 15 counties as well as the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to charge someone who knowingly or intentionally gets involved in a human smuggling organization or operation.

The bill adds a provision to Arizona Revised Statute 13-2323A making it a crime for someone to knowingly assist a human smuggling organization or operation “by transporting a person, or procuring the transportation for a person” with the intent to conceal the person from a peace officer or to assist the person in fleeing from a peace officer “who is attempting to lawfully arrest or detain” that person.

Several law enforcement officials from across the state attended Thursday’s bill signing by Ducey. During the event, the governor made pointed comments about ongoing border crisis, while praising Biasiucci and the bill’s 32 bipartisan co-sponsors for ensuring anyone who aids illegal human smuggling organizations or operations will be held accountable.

“We’re taking another critical step to fill the void in leadership left by the federal government’s unwillingness to secure the border,” Ducey said. “We have seen a dramatic increase in human smuggling at the border since President Biden took office. I’m hopeful this new law will help to save lives and deter more migrants from making the dangerous journey to our border.”

Biasiucci’s bill was opposed by the Arizona Justice Project, the William E Morris Institute for Justice, and Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice. The sentencing requirements do not take effect until later this year and are not retroactive.

Nothing in HB2696 restricts the ability of a governor to commute a sentence in accordance with existing state law.