WTF?! Being an eccentric billionaire inventor has sometimes seen Elon Musk called a real-life Tony Stark, but others say he’s more akin to a Bond villain. According to a damning new report, which makes some amazing allegations about his efforts to destroy a whistleblower, the CEO is closer to the latter.
The story begins back in June 2018, when Business Insider ran an article claiming Tesla was scrapping or reworking up to 40 percent of raw materials at its Nevada Gigafactory as it increased production of the Model 3 Sedan.
According to a new Bloomberg report, Musk “stewed for weeks” over the leaked details, which the company denied, and dispatched investigators to discover who was behind them. Former Tesla security manager Sean Gouthro said the team—some of whom had been personally hired by Musk from Uber, where they faced allegations of spying on rivals—focused on employee Martin Tripp.
Gouthro claims the investigators hacked Tripp’s phone, had him followed, and misled police about surveillance. He added that Musk knew Tripp didn’t sabotage Tesla or hack anything himself, but the CEO still wanted to ruin his reputation.
Gouthro also claimed that “a Tesla investigator installed a device at the factory that monitored everyone’s private communications.”
Tripp admitted to being the leaker, later saying it was over fears of cars being shipped with faulty and potentially dangerous batteries. He denied taking bribes from the reporter who wrote the piece—something Musk claimed on Twitter. Musk also implied that Tripp sent internal Tesla data to “unknown third parties.”
Tripp was fired a few days later, and Tesla soon launched a $167 million lawsuit against him, alleging he “unlawfully hacked the company’s confidential and trade secret information.” On the same day, Tripp heard from the Sheriff’s department that an anonymous caller had contacted Tesla warning them that he was planning a mass shooting at the Gigafactory. Tripp believes Musk, who emailed the Guardian and told the publication about the call, might have been behind the tip. A deputy later told Tesla the threat was bogus.
Tripp moved away from the US and now lives in Hungary to “avoid attention.”
Gouthro made other shocking claims about Tesla. He said that to meet production demands of the Model 3, the Gigafactory had been filled with workers so quickly that it was almost impossible to control. Employees allegedly used cocaine and meth in the bathrooms and had sex in unfinished parts of the factory. He also says a company lawyer told him that the previous head of security at the Gigafactory spied on a union meeting on Musk’s orders.
Tesla says Gouthro’s claims are “untrue and sensationalized,” and that he was fired for “poor performance, including repeated failure to demonstrate and understand best practices in the security industry.”