Former SEC chair says Musk could be removed as CEO in civil case, go to jail if criminally charged

  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk faces a range of penalties from the civil charges the SEC revealed Thursday, according to former SEC chair Harvey Pitt.
  • A criminal probe opened by the Justice Department earlier this month could lead to even more serious consequences for the outspoken founder.
  • "He could face jail time as well as additional fines," Pitt said.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla
Photo by Bloomberg
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla

Tesla CEO Elon Musk faces a range of penalties from the civil charges the SEC revealed Thursday if he is found guilty, according to a former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

"He can face a number of penalties ... he can have fines imposed against him, he can effectively be barred for a period of time or permanently from serving as a principal officer or a director of a public company," former SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt told CNBC's "Closing Bell" on Thursday. "That last element would of course strike a very severe blow to Tesla."

The SEC lawsuit alleges that Musk issued "false and misleading" statements and failed to properly notify regulators of material company events. Sources close to the company told CNBC the company was also expecting to be sued, although Tesla was not named as a defendant in the complaint.

A criminal probe reportedly opened by the Justice Department earlier this month could lead to even more serious consequences for the outspoken founder if he is found guilty there, according to Pitt. Tesla said the DOJ requested documents last month regarding Musk's tweets about taking the company private.

"It shouldn't be forgotten that there's a criminal investigation proceeding. If, in fact, criminal charges are brought and they are brought against Mr. Musk, he could face jail time as well as additional fines," Pitt added.

Shares of the automaker fell about 11 percent in extended trading Thursday. The stock is roughly 30 percent below its 52-week high of $387.46.

His tweet on Aug. 7 cost investors betting against Tesla about $1.3 billion, according to estimates from financial technology and analytics firm S3 Partners. If federal investigators find that Musk was intentionally trying to cost them money, he could face criminal charges, securities lawyers have said.

Musk said in an Aug. 13 blog post that the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund was interested in financing Tesla, only to later shelve any plans to take the company private in a tweet on Aug. 24.

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