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Ex-Tesla employee facing suit files SEC whistleblower claim

A former Tesla Inc. employee portrayed by Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk as a saboteur has filed a whistleblower tip with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that the company made misstatements and omissions to investors.

Martin Tripp, a process engineering technician at the company's huge battery factory in Nevada, who left Tesla on June 19 and was sued by the company shortly thereafter, accused the electric-car maker of inflating weekly Model 3 production figures by as much as 44 percent. In a tip filed to the SEC on Friday, he also said the company installed unsafe batteries in vehicles that may be at higher risk of catching fire later.

Tripp's allegations were summarized in a statement from Meissner Associates, a New York-based law firm that represented a former Monsanto Co. employee who was awarded $22 million in August 2016 for tipping off the SEC to improper accounting. Stuart Meissner, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan and assistant New York state attorney general, said he believes Tesla's lawsuit against Tripp was part of a media campaign to defame and silence him.

Tripp has struggled to hire a lawyer to defend him against Tesla's lawsuit and created a GoFundMe page.

Meissner said he won't be representing Tripp in the federal lawsuit in Nevada. Tripp "is in the process of interviewing attorneys," he said in a phone interview Wednesday. "It's not easy to find counsel. There's almost a cult of Tesla."

Tesla representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. The company accused Tripp in a complaint last month of writing a computer program to access proprietary information, sending material to three unidentified entities and attempting to cover his electronic tracks after he was denied a promotion.

Tripp told the SEC that Tesla had installed batteries with holes punctured in them, placed battery cells too close to one another and didn't properly secure them. Judy Burns, an SEC spokesman, declined to comment.

Tripp also alleged that the company systematically reused parts that had been deemed scrap or waste in vehicles.

Whistleblowers are eligible for payouts if they voluntarily provide the SEC with unique information that leads to a successful enforcement action. Compensation can range from 10 percent to 30 percent of the money collected in any case that leads to a penalty of at least $1 million.

Information for this article was contributed by Margaret Collins , Margaret Cronin Fisk and Matt Robinson of Bloomberg News.

Business on 07/12/2018

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