Oil exec accused of impersonating Elon Musk to steal Tesla's company secrets

Elon Musk

An oil executive accused of impersonating Elon Musk in an email in an attempt to solicit company secrets from Tesla wants the lawsuit thrown out because he says his impersonation wasn’t credible.

Todd Katz was the former chief financial officer of Quest Integrity, which provides services to oil and gas companies such as ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell.

In September, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Katz, claiming he set up the email address elontesla@yahoo.com to impersonate the company’s CEO and then used it to try and extract sensitive information from Tesla chief financial officer Jason Wheeler.

According to the lawsuit, Katz sent an email from the elontesla@yahoo.com account to Wheeler on 3 August 2016 requesting more detailed information about Tesla’s second-quarter financial results that were released on the same day.

“why you so cautious w Q3/4 gm guidance on call? also what are your thoughts on disclosing M3 res#? Pros/cons from ir pov? what is your best guess as to where we actually come in on q3/4 deliverables. honest guess? no bs. thx 4 hard work prepping 4 today

em”

Wheeler did not respond and instead Tesla launched an investigation to find out who was behind the email, eventually tracing the address to Katz and his employer.

Katz subsequently resigned from his position.

This week, Katz filed an objection to Tesla’s lawsuit arguing that the company’s reaction has been “over-the-top” and alleging that Tesla hacked into his Twitter in order to identify him.

The filing does not quibble that Katz sent the email but argues that “nobody who received this preposterous and grammatically deficient email ever believed it really came from Elon Musk” and as a result there was no credible impersonation and no direct injury to Tesla.

“It is clear that the email allegedly received by CFO Wheeler on August 3, 2016 was goofy, grammatically deficient communication that was not a ‘credible’ impersonation of Elon Musk in any way,” says the document, filed in the Santa Clara superior court.

Some of the reasons given for the lack of credibility include the use of a Yahoo email account and the “peculiar syntax of the email” that bears no similarity to that of Elon Musk “who is known to be a stickler for grammar and who would never use such atrocious syntax”.

It goes onto suggest that Tesla’s lawsuit is a “heavy-handed attempt to intimidate and silence Mr Katz, a Tesla critic.”

At the same time, Katz has filed a cross-complaint against Tesla for allegedly hacking into a Twitter account – @valuationmattrs – that he uses to criticize Tesla’s business practices. The complaint alleges that as part of Tesla’s investigation the company accessed the account illegally, causing Katz to suffer damages “including loss of earnings and damage to reputation”.

In a statement, a Tesla spokeswoman said: “The oil executive Todd Katz is perfectly capable of embarrassing himself with no help from Tesla. We did not even know that the Twitter pseudonym in question belonged to Mr Katz.

“What we are most interested in discovering is what people or organizations collaborated with Mr Katz in his attempt to gain information illegally from Tesla and who or what companies may have paid him to do so. That is of great concern to us and many members of the public.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Olivia Solon in San Francisco, for theguardian.com on Thursday 3rd November 2016 21.58 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010