Alleged Musk Impersonator Asks to Toss ‘Goofy’ E-Mail Suit

  • Former oil services CFO asks court to dismiss Tesla’s claims
  • He accuses Tesla of hacking Twitter account to smear him

A former oil services firm executive accused by Tesla Motors Inc. of impersonating Elon Musk in an e-mail says the carmaker’s lawsuit should be thrown out because his message was too “goofy” to be believed.

Todd Katz, a self-described critic of Tesla’s financial performance, also alleged that the company went too far after receiving the e-mail -- and then illegally hacked his Twitter account the next day to try to learn his identity.

“The oil executive Todd Katz is perfectly capable of embarrassing himself with no help from Tesla,” the company said in an e-mail. “We did not even know that the Twitter pseudonym in question belonged to Mr. Katz.”

Katz, who says he quit his position as chief financial officer for Quest Integrity Group LLC within a week of Tesla’s September lawsuit, asked a California state judge in San Jose Wednesday to throw out the case because there are no grounds to accuse him of a “credible impersonation” of Musk or of trying to acquire Tesla’s inside information.

“Nobody who received this preposterous and grammatically deficient e-mail ever believed that it really came from Elon Musk," Katz said in a filing. “Despite the fact that Tesla had posted significant losses for sixteen straight quarters, it has elected to spend its investors’ funds to pursue this petty, ill-conceived lawsuit."

Tesla disclosed its second-quarter financial results on Aug. 3, the same day its Chief Financial Officer Jason Wheeler received an e-mail from requesting more detailed information.

‘Best Guess’

It read: “Why you so cautious w Q3/4 guidance on call. What is ur best guess as to where we actually come in on q3/4 deliverables. Honest best guess. no bs.”

Katz contends nothing about the e-mail -- the grammar and syntax, the Yahoo address, and the use of “em” as a signoff -- would have led anyone who knows Musk to believe he wrote the message.

Tesla has no basis for claiming it suffered any injury from the solitary e-mail and the company’s ensuing internal probe to figure out who sent it, Katz said.

“Any expenses that Tesla incurred as a result of this investigation (as with the expenses Tesla incurred by hiring a prominent former federal prosecutor to file this lawsuit), were caused instead by Tesla’s decision to spare no expense in exposing and punishing the sender of this phony and absurd e-mail,” his lawyer wrote.

Katz alleged in a counter-complaint that Tesla sent an “employee or agent” to a Best Buy store near its Fremont factory to hack his Twitter handle “in order to illegally obtain and use information to identify Katz, publicly embarrass and silence him, and discourage other critics.”

When the company filed its suit against Katz on Sept. 14, it said it believed the e-mail was part of an oil-industry effort to undermine the company’s push for energy efficient transportation alternatives. Quest Integrity Group called that claim “absurd” while announcing that it was investigating Tesla’s claims about Katz. He said he resigned Sept. 19.

The case is Tesla Motors Inc. v. Katz, 16CV299916, Superior Court of the State of California, County of Santa Clara (San Jose).

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