It doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that impersonating Tesla CEO Elon Musk is probably not a good idea, but that’s exactly what Tesla alleges a senior executive of an oil company recently tried to do. In a lawsuit filed this week, Tesla accused Todd Katz, the chief financial officer of Seattle-based Quest Integrity Group, of attempting to obtain confidential financial information about the company by impersonating Tesla’s CEO via email. The suit claims Katz used an email address similar to one Musk was known to use in the past, and sent a message to Tesla Chief Financial Officer Jason Wheeler, on August 3, 2016 asking for information beyond what had just been published in the company’s quarterly financial report.
The suspicious email originated from “firstname.lastname@example.org,” which Tesla officials say is similar to a legitimate address Musk used in the past. Tesla filed the lawsuit Wednesday in Santa Clara County Superior Court. Forbes broke the news the same day, sending a wave of incredulous laughter across the internet.
According to the lawsuit, the email in question read:
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
In layman’s terms, the author of the email was asking Wheeler to discuss information not released to the public. The lawsuit alleges that Katz was knowingly “impersonating Musk in an attempt to unlawfully obtain material, non-public information—including Tesla’s financial trade secrets—from Tesla’s CFO through fraud, artifice and deception.” The originating email address was a red flag to Wheeler, who did not disclose any of the requested information.
Quest Integrity Group may not ring a bell for most Americans, but Katz was previously employed by several top Wall Street investment banks, including Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. Quest’s client list includes oil and gas giants such as BP, Shell, Chevron, and ExxonMobil. “On information and belief, Katz, Quest Integrity, and/or their oil company clients intended to use that non-public and trade secret information to further their own agendas and to harm Tesla,” the lawsuit reads.