Former Google Engineer Levandowski to Plead Guilty to Theft

(Bloomberg) -- One of Silicon Valley’s most renowned self-driving engineers agreed to plead guilty to stealing trade secrets from Google.

Anthony Levandowski’s plea agreement with prosecutors, filed Thursday in federal court in San Francisco, comes two weeks after a civil dispute with Google drove him to file for bankruptcy. Google won a $179 million award against Levandowski over his defection to Uber Technologies Inc.

The guilty plea coupled with the bankruptcy filing mark Levandowski’s steep fall from the heights of driverless technology startups and deal-making. Google was relentless in going after its former engineer, strategically pursuing its award in arbitration and pressing for a criminal case against him. The bankruptcy filing that Google precipitated made it difficult, if not impossible, for Levandowkski to afford a defense against the criminal charges.

Former Google Engineer Levandowski to Plead Guilty to Theft

“Mr. Levandowski accepts responsibility and is looking forward to resolving this matter,” his lawyer, Miles Ehrlich, said in an emailed statement. “Mr. Levandowski is a young man with enormous talents and much to contribute to the fast-moving world of AI and AV and we hope that this plea will allow him to move on with his life and focus his energies where they matter most.”

Under federal sentencing guidelines, which judges aren’t required to follow, Levandowski faces as long as 30 months in prison. Without the deal, he could’ve gotten as much as 10 years. Prosecutors agreed to drop 32 of 33 counts in the agreement.

Levandowski’s plea “brings to an end a seminal case for our company and the self-driving industry, and underscores the value of Waymo’s intellectual property,” the company said in an emailed statement.

Uber declined to comment on the plea deal.

Uber had hired Levandowski to run its self-driving project and later fired him while the company was fighting a lawsuit by Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo over allegations similar to those in the criminal case. The rideshare giant recently disclosed that it’s trying to get out of its hiring agreement with the engineer to cover the costs of legal action taken by Google.

Waymo’s civil suit against Uber was based on thousands of files Levandowski allegedly downloaded from Google before he left the company. The plea agreement focuses on one in particular, which revealed Waymo’s goals, metrics and technical challenges the company faced, and which the engineer admits he took for “the benefit of someone other than Google,” according to the filing.

The plea requires Levandowski to pay about $750,000 in restitution to Waymo to cover its costs of assisting the investigation. Another lawyer representing Levandowski told a federal judge soon after he was charged that his net worth had diminished to $72 million after accounting for taxes and a divorce.

The criminal case is U.S. v. Levandowski, 19-cr-00377, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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