A whistleblower trying to alert the public to what he claimed was wasteful and unsafe practices at the Tesla Gigafactory spiraled into a bizarre vendetta involving the company’s CEO Elon Musk, according to a wild Bloomberg report. This story’s got it all: sex and drugs in the workplace, paranoia, spying (both digitally and in real life) on employees and unions, and someone calling in a fake mass shooting warning.
The whistleblower in question, Martin Tripp, worked at the massive plant in Nevada. If that name rings a bell it’s because he was in the news last year, as a former Tesla technician who was sued (and then countersued) upon accusations of stealing confidential data from the automaker.
Tripp was accused of accused leaking documents to news organizations—he told Jalopnik last year he sent information to Business Insider because he was fearful of cars being shipped with faulty and potentially dangerous batteries.
But Musk did not take the subsequent stories about waste, theft, and potentially unsafe manufacturing written by Business Insider reporter Linette Lopez particularly well, and allegedly launched an aggressive campaign to go after Tripp.
From the Bloomberg story:
Many chief executive officers would try to ignore somebody like Tripp. Instead, as accounts from police, former employees, and documents produced by Tesla’s own internal investigation reveal, Musk set out to destroy him.
Tesla’s PR department spread rumors that Tripp was possibly homicidal and had been part of a grand conspiracy. On Twitter, Musk suggested the Business Insider reporter, Linette Lopez, was on the payroll of short sellers and claimed Tripp had admitted to taking bribes from her in exchange for “valuable Tesla IP.” Lopez denied the allegation.
Bloomberg also spoke to a former security manager at the Gigafactory, Sean Gouthro, who was charged with finding the leaker. Gouthro then filed his own whistleblower report with the SEC because “Investigators, he claims, hacked into Tripp’s phone, had him followed, and misled police about the surveillance.”
A company lawyer also told Gouthro that, on Musk’s orders, the company spied on a union meeting. A Tesla spokesperson told Bloomberg his claims are “are untrue and sensationalized.”
Gouthro had his hands full dealing with what sounds like an awfully interesting place to work:
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.
But Gouthro identified Tripp fairly easily; he was the only one to look up the particular manufacturing details in the story. Tripp copped to being the whistleblower and Tesla fired him on June 19.
The next day, after his personal information was published online, Tripp emailed Musk, saying “You have what’s coming to you for the lies you have told to the public and investors.” Musk replied that “threatening me only makes it worse for you,” before adding “You’re a horrible human being.”
A few hours after this exchange, an anonymous tipster called in a mass shooting warning identifying Tripp as a disgruntled former employee, which Gouthro relayed to the local sheriff’s department. Bloomberg reports Musk also tipped off a reporter at The Guardian about the mass shooting warning.
Even after deputies found Tripp unarmed, determined he was not a threat, and reviewed the tip and found it to be, in his words, “blown out of proportion,” Tesla wouldn’t drop it:
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.’”
Sounds like a pretty normal company.
Anyway, the full story is here, and worth a read.