Risk & Compliance

Engineer Gets 18 Months in Google Secrets Case

Anthony Levandowski had pleaded guilty to stealing thousands of files from Google's self-driving car program to benefit himself and Uber.
Matthew HellerAugust 5, 2020
Engineer Gets 18 Months in Google Secrets Case

Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing trade secrets from the company to benefit himself and Uber’s self-driving car program.

Levandowski, 40, was a pioneer of autonomous vehicle technology at Google’s Project Chauffeur before leaving to found Otto, a self-driving startup, and then selling Otto to Uber for more than $600 million in 2016. Uber fired him in May 2017.

He pleaded guilty in March to trade secrets theft for downloading thousands of confidential Project Chauffeur files, including development schedules and product designs, onto his personal laptop as he was preparing to leave Google.

“This is the biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup said Tuesday as he also fined Levandowski $95,000 and ordered him to pay $756,499 in restitution to Google’s self-driving unit, Waymo.

“Billions [of dollars] in the future were at play and when those kinds of financial incentives are there, good people will do terrible things,” he added.

As The Verge reports, the sentencing “closes the book on a multi-year legal saga stemming from Levandowski’s high-rising and equally fast-falling career in Silicon Valley spanning much of the past decade.”

After selling Otto, he joined Uber as a high-ranking executive in its self-driving division. But shortly after the sale, Waymo sued Uber, alleging Levandowski stole Project Chauffeur secrets, which were then used by Uber.

Federal prosecutors filed the criminal charges against Levandowski in August 2019. In a victim statement, Waymo asked that he face a “substantial period of incarceration.“

“His misconduct was enormously disruptive and harmful to Waymo, constituted a betrayal, and the financial effects would likely have been even more severe had it gone undetected,” wrote Waymo attorney Leo Cunningham.

Levandowski spoke briefly on his own behalf, saying, “The last three and a half years have forced me to come to terms with what I did. 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.”