A 38-year-old billionaire who recently bought a $32 million ranch received funding for his truck company under the government's Paycheck Protection Program, according to filings.
SEC filings show that Nikola Motor Company, founded and run by billionaire Trevor Milton, received $4.1 million in PPP funds from JP Morgan Chase. While the program was touted by the White House and members of Congress as a lifeline to small businesses and struggling employees, dozens of larger multi-billion-dollar companies received PPP funding.
Nikola, founded by Milton in 2014, makes electric hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles and trucks and is based in Phoenix, Arizona. The company recently announced a deal to go public by merging with VectoIQ, a publicly traded shell company founded by former GM Vice Chairman Steve Girsky.
The deal valued Nikola at more than $3 billion and made Milton a billionaire based on his ownership stake. As part of the merger, the company will receive a capital infusion of more than $500 million from investors including Fidelity and ValueAct Capital. The deal has yet to close.
In an interview on CNBC last month, ValueAct's Jeffrey Ubben said Nikola would eventually be a "$100 billion company" given its technology and potential. In the interview, Milton said the company had also just received an $800 million truck order from Anheuser-Busch and "is about to announce orders many times that."
Nikola Motor, in a statement to CNBC, said the PPP funds act as a cash bridge to retain its 300 employees while the VectoIQ merger closes: "There's a difference between a high valuation and having cash," the company said.
"Nikola is a pre-revenue company with a lot of expenses and burn rate is high," the company added. "Since PPP funds will be used to retain staff, the lifeline follows the spirit of the Act in that we're preserving high paying jobs."
Last year, Milton shelled out $32.5 million for a 2,600-acre luxury ranch in Utah, where he grew up. The property has a 16,800 square-foot river-front mansion with eight bedrooms, 8.5 baths, a lofted billiards room, movie theater, wine cellar and gym.
Milton has said his property-buying is only beginning. The company said he splits his time between Phoenix and Utah.
"I plan on picking up multiple other properties like this one in order to preserve Utah and offer a sanctuary for my family, friends and others to enjoy," he wrote in an email to the website Mansion Global. "I feel like my generation is asset light, wants smaller everything and is moving to cities, which is the opposite of what I wanted in life."