Nikola Corp. founder Trevor Milton asked a federal judge to stop prosecutors from showing jurors “irrelevant and unfairly prejudicial” evidence at his trial on securities fraud charges—including details of his “wealth, lifestyle and spending habits.”

The request was among a flurry of motions filed by Milton’s lawyers late Monday, ahead of the criminal trial scheduled to begin July 18 in New York. They said Milton’s wealth—his Nicola holdings were at one point worth $9 billion and he used his 2,700-acre Utah ranch to secure his release on $100 million bail—has no relevance to whether he committed a crime and won’t help show whether he was motivated to do so.

“There is no probative value in demonstrating Mr. Milton’s wealth, lifestyle, or spending habits because there is no socioeconomic status at which a person suddenly develops a greater incentive to commit securities or wire fraud—which Mr. Milton did not do,” his lawyers said in a court filing.

A defendant’s wealth might be relevant if it was “sudden and inexplicable,” but Milton’s financial means are “widely understood,” his attorneys said. “Mr. Milton, along with many others, earned and subsequently sold Nikola stock.”

Block Evidence

Nikola went public through a reverse merger with a blank-check company in June 2020, in a deal that made Milton into a billionaire several times over. At one point, the company’s shares ballooned to almost $80 apiece, giving it a market capitalization greater than Ford Motor Co. despite not generating any meaningful revenue.

Nikola’s market value plunged after Milton and the company were accused of exaggerating the the capability of its debut truck, the Nikola One. Prosecutors accused Milton of making false and misleading statements via social media and other outlets to induce retail investors to buy the stock.

Earlier on Tuesday, Nikola urged investors to approve the company’s plan to issue new shares to raise capital. Milton, the largest shareholder, has voted against that plan, forcing the company to adjourn its annual shareholder meeting to June 30 so it could work on soliciting more approval votes.

Milton’s lawyers also asked US District Judge Edgardo Ramos to block evidence of the pandemic’s impact on retail investors. They said financial and health problems that may have led investors to trade stocks has no relevance in the case and doesn’t show whether a reasonable investor could consider Milton’s statements material, or important enough to influence their investment decisions.

The defense team is seeking to prevent prosecutors from introducing details about his sale of Nikola shares after the end of a lockup period in December 2020, noting he resigned in September 2020 and is not accused of any crimes after that.

Milton also wants the judge to allow all testimony from Nikola general counsel Britton Worthen, which the defense team says will rebut claims by prosecutors that he made public statements about the company he knew were false.

Nikola has waived its attorney-client privilege rights over Worthen’s communications, Milton’s lawyers said, but has still withheld some. Milton’s lawyers pointed to a series of undisclosed emails between Nikola executives and Milton about Tesla Charts, a podcast where Milton is alleged to have misled investors about the company’s prospects, that seem to indicate that statements he made there were approved by the company’s legal team.

Milton’s statements were “reviewed, approved and released” by Nikola, and the founder relied on others to “review and approve” what was released, his lawyers said.

The case is US v Milton, 21-cr-478, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan.)