Sex, Drugs, and Electric Cars: Report Claims Elon Musk Tried to 'Destroy' Whistleblower, Spied on Union Meetings

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

A recent report from Bloomberg frames Tesla CEO Elon Musk as quite the jerk in relation to his actions toward a former employee. This worker is the whistleblower who, last year, shared internal documents that suggested the company’s Nevada Gigafactory was blowing through raw materials at an alarming rate. Martin Tripp offered up information showing Tesla wasted $150 million in materials and accused the automaker of pursuing unsafe production procedures during its push to increase Model 3 volume.

Tripp, who tried briefly to maintain his anonymity, said he was concerned that Tesla was shipping cars that were potentially dangerous to consumers. However, Tesla quickly responded by suggesting the claims against it were ridiculous and the amount of waste cited in the report was an overstatement.

“As is expected with any new manufacturing process, we had high scrap rates earlier in the Model 3 ramp. This is something we planned for and is a normal part of a production ramp,” Tesla told Business Insider in 2018.

Following an intense Twitter rant from Elon Musk, the story died down. But the corporate task force charged with finding out who leaked the information would eventually lead to even more ridiculous claims.

Sean Gouthro, former security manager at the Gigafactory, ended up filing his own report with the Securities and Exchange Commission in January alleging that Tesla investigators hacked Tripp’s phone, followed him around, and misled police about the surveillance data that had been acquired. Odd, considering Tripp’s true identity was uncovered almost immediately — as he was the only person with access to the manufacturing details relevant to the story. Tesla ended up firing him on June 19th of 2018, with Musk releasing an email claiming an employee had tried to “sabotage to our operations” as part of a broader conspiracy involving short sellers and oil companies.

This was followed by Tripp’s personal details being published all over the internet. Shaken, Tripp sent an email to Musk saying “you have what’s coming to you for the lies you have told to the public and investors.” The CEO responded by calling him a “horrible human being” and suggested threats would only leave Tripp in a worse position. Later that day, the company claimed it received a warning of an imminent mass shooting and identified Tripp as a disgruntled ex-employee, though the event never took place.

Gouthro’s account to Bloomberg casts a shadow upon the shooting threat and the company’s handling of Tripp overall. Tripp was interrogated by Tesla’s investigators, who Musk reportedly hired personally (despite allegations that they took part in spying on rivals while working for Uber). While Tripp admitted to informing the press, he denied Musk’s accusation that he had accepted bribes from the media. He eventually moved out of the country to avoid any further interaction with the company.

While Gouthro’s recollection of the incident frames Tesla as a vicious actor that attempted to take Tripp down by publicly defaming him, it wasn’t all he learned through the investigation. Corporate investigators allegedly installed devices that “monitored everyone’s private communications” within the factory. Gouthro also claimed he was informed by a corporate lawyer that Tesla had spied on at least one union meeting under Musk’s direct orders and cited a lot of day-to-day weirdness inside the factory.

From Bloomberg:

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.

While we would imagine there’s a fair bit of this going on at other auto factories across the globe, it’s not a pretty picture. On Monday, Tesla said Gouthro’s allegations are “untrue and sensationalized,” and that he was fired due to “poor performance, including repeated failure to demonstrate and understand best practices in the security industry.”

[Image: Tesla Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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11 of 34 comments
  • ToddAtlasF1 ToddAtlasF1 on Mar 13, 2019

    So Tesla already has adversarial relationships between management and labor, drug use and sex in the factory, an established reputation for lousy quality, and rolling job losses? It sounds like UAW organization would be redundant.

  • Mikey Mikey on Mar 14, 2019

    I say this with all due respect to my fellow B&B members..Most of you folks have no idea what really goes on behind closed doors, nooks, crannies, loading docks in any manufacturing facility. The non union transplants are no different . The Honda, and Toyota folks just practice a bit more discretion. A little nooky on the side ? Maybe a couple of tokes on a fatty? A line or two in the washroom stall?....Its going on today, and it will be going on to night.

    • See 7 previous
    • Ajla Ajla on Mar 14, 2019

      @EGSE lol. I think I'll just save that for the weekends. It's got me this far and that's what I have a house for. I don't feel so bad about spending any "on clock" time screwing around on TTAC or anymore though.

  • Bd2 Probably too late to do anything about it for the launch, but Kia should plan on doing an extensive refresh of the front fascia (the earlier, the better) as the design looks really ungainly.
  • Namesakeone Since I include SUVs and minivans as trucks, I really cannot think of a brand that is truly truckless. MG maybe?
  • Sobhuza Trooper Subaru, they were almost there with the BRAT. --On a lighter note, where the hell is my Cooper Works Mini truck?
  • Mike Evs do suck, though. I mean, they really do.
  • Steve Biro I don’t care what brand but it needs to be a compact two-door with an ICE, traditional parallel hybrid or both. A manual transmission option would be nice but I don’t expect it - especially with a hybrid. Don’t show me an EV.