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Tesla Skeptic Says Allegation He Menaced Workers Isn't True

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 5/2/2019 Dana Hull
A Tesla logo sits on the wheel hub of a Tesla Inc. Model S electric vehicle at a Supercharger station in Egerkingen, Switzerland, on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk has captivated the financial world by blurting out via Twitter his vision of transforming Tesla into a private company.© Bloomberg A Tesla logo sits on the wheel hub of a Tesla Inc. Model S electric vehicle at a Supercharger station in Egerkingen, Switzerland, on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk has captivated the financial world by blurting out via Twitter his vision of transforming Tesla into a private company.

A California man who Tesla Inc. accused of spying on its lone auto plant and harassing employees said the electric automaker painted a “lurid picture" of him to try to silence his criticism.

If so, it didn’t work. In a fiery court filing Wednesday, Randeep Hothi -- who has become a hero to Tesla short sellers through his Twitter handle “Skabooshka" -- said none of the allegations the company made last month to get a judge to order him to stay away from its factory and employees are true.

“Tesla has painted a lurid picture of Hothi as a dangerous individual guilty of stalking, harassment, and trespass, whose activities constitute ‘actual and threatened violence,’” his lawyer wrote. “As evidence in Tesla’s possession will show, Mr. Hothi endangered no one, threatened no one, and harassed no one.”

Tesla claims Hothi, who lives near its Fremont plant, has been photographing the factory and recently swerved his car toward a Tesla Model 3 that three employees had taken for a drive on the freeway.

Hothi said in Wednesday’s filing that he happened to be driving on the freeway when he came upon a Tesla car that was doing performance testing and "took the opportunity to observe and briefly record the car’s actions." Hothi says footage from cameras mounted on the Tesla car will show that he was not aggressive.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive officer and largest shareholder, has been engaged in a long war with short sellers---people who bet that the company is overvalued and can profit when the stock declines. Musk is very active on Twitter, and his critics are as well. Skabooshka is part of a loose confederation of skeptics who increasingly use the name “$TSLAQ" to refer to themselves. The letter "Q" is added to a company’s stock ticker when it files for bankruptcy.

In October, Musk tweeted that "Short-sellers are value destroyers. Should definitely be illegal." While many of Tesla’s loudest online critics are finance types who pick apart the company’s earnings reports and regulatory filings, Hothi’s claim to fame is on-the-ground research that has largely focused on counting physical cars and monitoring production output at the Fremont factory using cameras and drones.

In real life, he is a graduate student who is working on a doctoral dissertation in linguistics at the University of Michigan. But his work on Tesla -- which he readily shares on Twitter as a self-described “citizen journalist” -- has caught the attention of several hedge funds. More than $113,000 has been raised through crowdsourcing for his legal defense.

Tesla persuaded a state court judge on April 19 to issue a temporary restraining order requiring Hothi to stay at least 100 yards away from its factory and employees. Hothi asked in Wednesday’s filing for a postponement of a May 7 hearing to give him more time to collect evidence to defend himself. The court rescheduled the hearing for May 21 and said the stay-away order will remain in place until then.

“Tesla’s accusations here fall into a long and disturbing pattern of using lies and intimidation in an effort to silence its critics,” Hothi’s lawyer said in the filing.

Tesla representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Updates with hearing rescheduled to May 21.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Dana Hull in San Francisco at dhull12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Trudell at ctrudell1@bloomberg.net, Peter Blumberg

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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