A former Google engineer has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing trade secrets before joining Uber's effort to build robotic vehicles for its ride-hailing service. The sentence handed down Tuesday by U.S. District Judge William Alsup came more than four months after former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski reached a plea agreement with the federal prosecutors who brought a criminal case against him last August. Levandowski, who helped steer Google's self-driving car project before landing at Uber, was also ordered to pay more than $850,000. Alsup had taken the unusual step of recommending the Justice Department open a criminal investigation into Levandowski while presiding over a high-profile civil trial between Uber and Waymo, a spinoff from a self-driving car project that Google began in 2007 after hiring Levandowski to be part of its team. Levandowski eventually became disillusioned with Google and left the company in early 2016 to start his own self-driving truck company, called Otto, which Uber eventually bought for $680 million. He wound up pleading guilty to one count, culminating in Tuesday's sentencing.
Last year Anthony Levandowski pleaded guilty to one count of stealing materials from Google, where he was an engineer for its self-driving car efforts before leaving to found a startup that he sold to Uber. The judge said during his sentencing that his theft of documents and emails constituted the "biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen." Now, on the last day of Donald Trump's administration, Trump issued a series of pardons -- the Department of Justice has more information on how those work here -- and commutations that covered people who worked on his campaign like Steve Bannon and Elliott Broidy, as well as Levandowski. A press release from the White House noted tech billionaires Peter Thiel and Palmer Luckey were among those supporting a pardon for Levandowski, and it makes the claim that this engineer "paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good." It also noted that his plea covered only a single charge, omitting mention of the 33 charges he'd been indicted on.
Former Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski has been sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment after pleading guilty to stealing trade secrets from Waymo, Google's self-driving car division. He's also agreed to pay over $756,000 to the company, plus a fine of $95,000 -- which will be a feat considering Levandowski's already been bankrupted by a $179 million judgment against him for poaching Google employees. "The last three and a half years have forced me to come to terms with what I did," Levandowski said in a statement. "I want to take this time to apologize to my colleagues at Google for betraying their trust, and to my entire family for the price they have paid and will continue to pay for my actions." Levandowski faced a potential 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to one charge of trade secret theft back in March.
US District Judge William Alsup has sentenced Anthony Levandowski, the former lead Waymo engineer at the heart of a trade secret legal battle between the Alphabet subsidiary and Uber, to 18 months in prison. Prosecutors sought a 27-month sentence, while Levandowski requested a one-year home confinement, telling the court that his recent bouts with pneumonia makes him susceptible to COVID--19. According to TechCrunch, Alsup shot his request down, explaining that home confinement and a short prison sentence "[give] a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets. That said, he allowed Levandowski to enter custody once the pandemic has subsided. Alphabet filed a lawsuit against Uber in 2017, accusing the company of colluding with its former employee to steal secrets from Waymo. While Levandowski didn't immediately join Uber after leaving the Google division that eventually became Waymo, the ride-hailing titan quickly acquired the self-driving truck startup he founded. In its lawsuit, Alphabet said its former employee downloaded over 14,000 confidential and proprietary design files for various Waymo hardware, including its LiDAR system. The two companies reached a settlement in 2018, with Waymo making sure that Uber would develop its own self-driving technology. In mid--March this year, Levandowski agreed to plead guilty to one count of stealing materials from Google to make other criminal charges go away. "The last three and a half years have forced me to come to terms with what I did.
Federal prosecutors are also seeking three years of supervised release and an agreed-upon restitution payment of nearly $756,500 to Alphabet Inc's self-driving car company Waymo, according to the court papers filed in the U.S. District Court for Northern District of California. Levandowski's attorneys have asked for 12 months of home confinement for him, with an obligation to perform community service, and a $95,000 fine, the court papers added. "It is, unfortunately, no exaggeration to say that a prison sentence today can amount to the imposition of a serious health crisis, even a death sentence, given the BOP's (Federal Bureau of Prisons) current inability to control the spread of the coronavirus," Levandowski's attorneys wrote. The case stemmed from accusations by Google and its sister company Waymo in 2017 that Uber jump-started its own self-driving car development with trade secrets and staff that Levandowski unlawfully took from Google. Uber issued company stock to Alphabet and revised its software to settle the case, and the Department of Justice later announced a 33-count criminal indictment against Levandowski.