A former Tesla employee is claiming the company improperly spied on workers and ignored or covered up complaints of rampant theft and drug dealing at the company’s Nevada Gigafactory.
The allegations are contained in the summary of a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission prepared by attorney Stuart Meissner of Meissner Associates in New York.
Meissner said whistleblower Karl Hansen filed a formal tip with the SEC on Aug. 9. Meissner also represents Martin Tripp, of Sparks, Nev., who claims the company shipped vehicles with dangerous battery flaws.
“Once again, very serious allegations are made by a credible source in this most recent SEC whistleblower submission against a major public company and its CEO,” Meissner stated. “I am hopeful the SEC and other government agencies will investigate these allegations and take swift appropriate action.”
In a statement, Tesla said:
"Mr. Hansen’s allegations were taken very seriously when he brought them forward. Some of his claims are outright false. Others could not be corroborated, so we suggested additional investigative steps to try and validate the information he had received second-hand from a single anonymous source," the statement said.
"Because we wanted to be sure we got this right, we made numerous attempts to engage further with Mr. Hansen to understand more about what he was claiming and the work that he did in reaching his conclusions. He rejected each of those attempts, and to date has refused to speak with the company further. It seems strange that Mr. Hansen would claim that he is concerned about something happening within the company, but then refuse to engage with the company to discuss the information that he believes he has."
According to Meissner, Hansen is a former member of Tesla’s security department who was fired on July 16 after pointing out wrongdoing at the taxpayer-subsidized Gigafactory in Storey County, Nev.
Hansen is a retired special agent and criminal investigator for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command and former senior investigator in Southern California for the Federal Maritime Commission, Meissner said.
“I never expected that my employment with such a major public company would lead to uncovering such issues, and I am disturbed by Tesla’s highly unusual response to those like me who investigated them,” Hansen stated in the release from Meissner.
According to the statement, Hansen claims Tesla should have disclosed to investors evidence of wrongdoing in three areas.
They include the theft of copper and other raw material valued at more than $37 million, widespread wiretapping and hacking of Tesla employee cell phones and computers and a recent internal investigation of a May 24 written notification from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Storey County Sheriff’s Office alleging that a Tesla employee may be participating in drug trafficking with a Mexican cartel.
Storey County Sheriff Gerald Antinoro sent a written response to Meissner's summary.
"The Storey County Sheriff's Office cannot confirm nor deny the existence of an ongoing investigation of drug activity that is connected to the Gigafactory," Antinoro wrote. "The Sheriff's Office has received reports on two occasions regarding thefts at the Gigafactory. Those cases have been investigated and submitted to the Storey County District Attorney's Office for a prosecutorial decision. Any further inquiry into these cases should be directed to the District Attorney."
Antinoro concluded: "The Storey County Sheriff's Office has no record of ever having been contacted by Karl Hansen, the former Tesla employee whom Mr. Meissner refers to in his press release."
According to the summary, Hansen said the theft of materials occurred between January and June and that he was instructed to not report the theft to law enforcement.
The summary also says that, according to Hansen, Tesla spied on Tripp’s cell phone and computer and after Tripp left the company Tesla installed specialized router equipment in the Gigafactory to capture employee cell phone communications.
The summary also says Hansen, “was told these tactics were specifically authorized by CEO Elon Musk,” and implemented by the company’s security team.
“In my opinion, Tesla’s actions have placed investors, the public and Tesla employees at risk,” Hansen’s statement said. “I hope that shining a light on Tesla’s practices will cause appropriate governmental action against the company and its management.”
The Gigafactory as a whole, including Tesla and partners Panasonic and H&T Nevada, employed 2,417 at the end of September. It's also employed 12,411 construction workers. Companies have spent nearly $3.3 billion.
The company agreed in 2014 to build in Nevada after the state legislature and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval agreed to a package of tax breaks and incentives worth $1.3 billion over 20 years.
The subsidies are conditioned on Tesla meeting employment and investment metrics. A spokesman for the Governor's Office of Economic Development, which provides performance oversight, said he wouldn't comment on, "an ongoing legal matter."