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SEC Probing Tesla Over Possible Securities Law Violation

(CBS SF) -- The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Tesla Motors for a possible securities law breach, according to a published report.

The Wall Street Journal reported the Palo Alto electric car maker is facing a SEC probe for not telling investors about a fatal crash of a Tesla driver using the Autopilot feature.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the May 7 crash in Florida of a Model S sedan, the first known fatality while the autopilot system was in use. A preliminary investigation showed the Model S's cameras did not detect a tractor-trailer turning in front of the car and failed to automatically apply the brakes.

Tesla told the Associated Press Monday the company has not received any communication from the SEC.

Fortune reported last week that Tesla may have withheld a material fact from shareholders when it failed to disclose the crash days before the company and CEO Elon Musk sold $2 billion in shares in an offering on May 18. In response, Musk told Fortune the deadly crash wasn't "material" information that Tesla investors needed to know.

However, in an SEC quarterly report for the period ending March 31, Tesla said the opposite, warning investors that any failures of new technologies could result in liability claims that "could harm our business, prospects, operating results and financial condition."

"Moreover, a product liability claim could generate substantial negative publicity about our products and business and would have material adverse effect on our brand, business, prospects and operating results."
- Tesla quarterly report, March 31, 2016.

NHTSA reported it was investigation the crash six weeks after the share offering, even though Tesla said it immediately NHTSA informed about the accident.

Tesla told the Associated Press the company has not received any communication from the SEC.

Earlier this month, Tesla said shipments to customers had fallen in the previous quarter, making it unlikely the company would meet expectations of 80,000 to 90,000 vehicle deliveries in 2016.

Last month, Musk faced criticism after Tesla's bid to buy San Mateo-based solar panel installer SolarCity for $2.5 billion. The financially-strapped firm is run by Musk's cousin, Lyndon Rive.

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Carlos E. Castañeda is Senior Editor, News & Social Media for CBS San Francisco and a San Francisco native. You can follow him on Twitter or send him an email.

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