Today's Businessweek magazine (a Bloomberg title) is out with a fantastic piece on Tesla’s treatment of whisteblower Martin Tripp. Read it here.
The article features an interview with former security manager Sean Gouthro, who filed a whistleblower report with the Securities and Exchange Commission on January 24.
We wrote about Mr Tripp’s counterclaim case last summer, after he was sued by Tesla for exposing trade secrets, breaching his contractual and fiduciary duty, and making “false claims to the media about the information he stole”. He previously worked at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada.
So here are some highlights from the Businessweek piece, it’s pretty bonkers:
On June 20, the company sued Tripp for $167 million. Later that day, Tripp heard from the sheriff’s department in Storey County, Nev. Tesla’s security department had passed a tip to police. An anonymous caller had contacted the company to say Tripp was planning a mass shooting at the Gigafactory.
When the police confronted Tripp that evening, he was unarmed and in tears. He said he was terrified of Musk and suggested the billionaire might have called in the tip himself. A sheriff’s deputy attempted to cheer up Tripp and then called Tesla to tell the company that the threat, whoever had made it, was bogus. Tripp wasn’t dangerous.
Here's a bit on Tesla's Gigafactory, where its batteries are made in partnership with Panasonic:
Gouthro says that if Tripp was ignored, it was partly because his problems barely rated in Nevada. The Gigafactory, one of the world’s largest buildings by floor area, had been filled with workers so quickly that it was almost impossible to control. Not long after Gouthro started in January 2018, he discovered that many employees, some of whom were living out of their car in the corners of the industrial park, were using cocaine and meth in the bathrooms. Others were having sex in parts of the factory that were still under construction. Gouthro says the scanners guards used to check badges were unreliable, so they’d wave in anyone with a piece of paper that looked legitimate. Local scrap yards called him to report thieves were trying to sell obscure electric vehicle parts.
And here's the moment Mr Tripp was outed as the source of the original leak for a Business Insider story by Linette Lopez (our emphasis):
Then, two and a half hours into the interview, the investigators disclosed that Tripp had been the only one who’d accessed the manufacturing numbers. Tripp admitted he was the leaker. But the transcript shows that he denied accepting bribes — despite Musk’s later Twitter claims to the contrary — and he said he hadn’t given the information to anyone else. Gouthro, who wasn’t in the interrogation room, says at one point he saw a colleague reading the text messages and emails that Tripp was sending during breaks in the questioning. He says that somehow Tesla was able to access Tripp’s communications in real time.
To conclude, some colour from the local sheriff, Gerald Antinoro, who looked into Tesla's claims Mr Tripp was an active threat to the company:
In an interview in his office months after the incident, he still seems both mystified and amused by the Tesla shooting threat. The sheriff says that when he’d looked into the anonymous call after police confronted Tripp, the threat seemed less threatening than the company made it sound. The caller said Tripp was volatile but didn’t say he was on his way to shoot up the place. “You remember playing telephone as a kid?” Antinoro asks. “It got blown out of proportion.” He dropped the investigation when Tesla declined to make available a colleague of Tripp’s who might have called in the tip. To Antinoro, one of the strangest parts of the situation was that after he told the company the threat was false, it asked him to put out a press release hyping it. He declined, but Tesla publicized the incident anyway. The morning after the threat was debunked, a spokesman texted another reporter: “Yesterday afternoon we received a phone call from a friend of Mr. Tripp telling us that Mr. Tripp would be coming to the Gigafactory to ‘shoot the place up.’ ”
“It’s one of them head-scratchers,” the sheriff says. “The only way the press knew anything about it was from them.”
Totally normal $49bn public company. How did the Stalinist purges begin again?
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