Former star Google engineer faces up to ten years in jail after pleading guilty to stealing trade secrets from the internet giant’s self-driving unit before he resigned to join a rival firm

  • Anthony Levandowski, 39, was a founder of 2009 Google project ‘Chauffeur’ 
  • He wanted to leave and  began negotiating with Uber to invest in a new company
  • He admitted to downloading documents before he left Google for ‘Otto’ 

A former Google star engineer charged with stealing trade secrets from its self-driving car program has agreed to plead guilty in a deal with prosecutors, according to court documents filed Thursday.

Anthony Levandowski, 39, was a founding member of an autonomous vehicle project in 2009 called ‘Chauffeur,’ one of Google’s more ambitious undertakings.

Several years later Levandowski began thinking of leaving Google for another self-driving endeavor that was eventually named ‘Otto,’ the plea deal said. 

He began negotiating with ride-sharing giant Uber to invest in or buy Otto while he was still working at Google, and admits having downloaded a whole series of documents a few months before his resignation in January 2016. 

In this 206 file photo, Anthony Levandowski, who was head of Uber's self-driving program, speaks about their driverless car in San Francisco. Levandowski today pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets from Google

In this 206 file photo, Anthony Levandowski, who was head of Uber’s self-driving program, speaks about their driverless car in San Francisco. Levandowski today pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets from Google

‘Prior to my departure, I downloaded thousands of files related to Project Chauffeur,’ Levandowski said in court documents.

Levandowski was leader of the light-detecting and ranging (LiDAR) team when he resigned from Google without notice.  

The technology is important for self-driving cars to measure distances and avoid obstacles.

Levandowski will plead guilty to a count of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets in exchange for prosecutors dropping the rest of the charges filed against him, the court filing showed.  

Anthony Levandowski, 39, pictured outside a California court last year, was a founding member of an autonomous vehicle project in 2009 called 'Chauffeur,' one of Google's more ambitious undertakings

Anthony Levandowski, 39, pictured outside a California court last year, was a founding member of an autonomous vehicle project in 2009 called ‘Chauffeur,’ one of Google’s more ambitious undertakings

 He could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine under sentencing guidelines, but a federal judge would be free to determine the punishment.

‘All of us have the right to change jobs, none of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door,’ US attorney David Anderson said in a release announcing the original counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets last year. 

The allegations came out in a civil case in which Google’s self-driving car division, now renamed Waymo and under its parent Alphabet, accused Uber of stealing trade secrets. 

The allegations came out in a civil case in which Google's self-driving car division, now renamed Waymo and under its parent Alphabet, accused Uber of stealing trade secrets. Pictured: A Waymo Jaguar I-PACE self-driving electric vehicle drives on a city street near the Embarcadero in San Francisco, California, USA, 09 March 2020

The allegations came out in a civil case in which Google’s self-driving car division, now renamed Waymo and under its parent Alphabet, accused Uber of stealing trade secrets. Pictured: A Waymo Jaguar I-PACE self-driving electric vehicle drives on a city street near the Embarcadero in San Francisco, California, USA, 09 March 2020

That case ended with a settlement between the two firms last year.

Levandowski was fired by Uber in 2017 as the two firms were preparing to go to court on the civil trial.

Levandowski has filed for bankruptcy, citing listing Google among his creditors and noting a legal claim against him totaling about $179 million, according to US bankruptcy court filings.

 

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