Posted by on March 13, 2019 4:23 pm
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Categories: Economy

While the rest of the world moved on from Business Insider’s summer 2018 report that Tesla was reworking or scrapping 40% of its raw materials at its Gigafactory, Elon Musk wasn’t able to do so. As Bloomberg details in a new long-form, Elon Musk “stewed for weeks” trying to figure out who had leaked the detailed information with the press.

We now knew that the responsible party was Tesla’s first official whistleblower: Martin Tripp, a worker on the assembly line at Tesla’s Gigafactory. Tripp claimed to have leaked the information for altruistic and safety purposes, trying to get Tesla to fess up to wrongdoing and clean up its act. Musk disagreed, and called Tripp someone who engaged in “extensive and damaging sabotage” of the company and claimed Tripp had shared more confidential information with “unknown third parties”. 

Martin Tripp (Souce: BBG)

Tesla subsequently sued Tripp for $167 million in late June of 2018, which we reported on previously. On the same day, Tripp heard from the sheriff’s department in Storey County, Nev., who claimed they had gotten a tip from Tesla security. Meanwhile, Tesla security claimed someone had called in to the Gigafactory, warning them that Tripp was planning a mass shooting at the gigafactory. 

When the police tracked down Tripp later that evening, he was unarmed and “in tears”, claiming that he was terrified of Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who he thought may have called in a falsified tip himself. The Sheriff contacted Tesla to tell them that the tip was bogus and that Tripp was not dangerous. Bloomberg reports that “Tesla’s PR department spread rumors that Tripp was possibly homicidal and had been part of a grand conspiracy.”

At the same time, Musk took to Twitter to decry the author of the Business Insider report, Linette Lopez. He accused her of being on the payroll of short sellers and claimed that Tripp had admitted to taking bribes from her in exchange for “valuable Tesla IP”. Lopez forcefully denied the accusations immediately on Twitter, mocking Musk for wasting his time on her. 

In a surprise reversal, the Gigafactory’s head of security at the time, Sean Gouthro, has now also turned into a whistleblower. He claims that Tesla security “behaved unethically in its zeal to nail” Tripp. Among other things, he claims that Tesla investigators hacked into Tripp’s phone, had him followed and misled police. Further, Gouthro says that Tripp didn’t sabotage Tesla or hack anything and that Elon Musk knew all of this, but still tried to damage his reputation. 

“They had the ability to do things I didn’t even know existed. It scared the shit out of me,” Gouthro told Bloomberg. 

Sean Gouthro (Photo: BBG)

Gouthro said he wasn’t surprised that Tripp went unnoticed at the Gigafactory when he tried to point out problems. The factory “had been filled with workers so quickly that it was almost impossible to control,” he said. 

He also said that soon after he started in January 2018, he discovered many employees (some living out of their cars) were using cocaine and meth in the bathrooms. Others were having sex in parts of the factory that weren’t constructed yet. 

“A member of a Mexican cartel was in fact trafficking in potential large quantities of methamphetamine and cocaine,” one of Gouthro’s underlings, Karl Hansen, would later state publicly. Hansen was cited as Gouthro’s motivation to go public with his story – Gouthro sought to corroborate Hansen’s claims. 

In terms of security at the factory, Gouthro said that “the scanners guards used to check badges were unreliable, so they’d wave in anyone with a piece of paper that looked legitimate.”

After Tripp went public, Gouthro looked back through video footage to identify him as the leaker. He sent a plainclothes security guard to ask Tripp to turn his laptop in for a “routine update” that was actually a comprehensive forensic audit. Tripp later admitted, in an interrogation with company HR, that he was the leaker – but the transcript of the interrogation showed that he denied taking bribes, which Musk later accused him of on Twitter. 

Gouthro claimed that Tesla somehow had access to texts and e-mails that Tripp was sending while at the Gigafactory:

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.

The six hour interview wound up finishing on relatively civil terms, according to the transcript, though Gouthro said he had to debrief a “furious” Musk via video conference, before Tesla fired Tripp on June 19. 

You can read the full Bloomberg feature here

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