Ex-Google Self-Driving Car Guru Is Likely Headed To Prison

Ex-Google Self-Driving Car Guru Is Likely Headed To Prison
Photo: AP

Last August, attorneys for Anthony Levandowski, who left Google to found his own company, ended up as an engineer at Uber, and briefly ran his own techtopian church, said, “He didn’t steal anything from anyone.” On Thursday, Levandowski said in papers filed in U.S. federal court, “I stole.”

The case, in which Levandowski was accused of stealing thousands of files from Google, centered on his work in developing self-driving cars and was brought by federal prosecutors on August 15. The criminal case followed a separate civil proceeding between Waymo and Uber, which was settled in 2018, several months after Levandowski was fired by Uber.

Levandowski officially pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, though prosecutors will recommend less than that. Levandowski had originally been charged with 33 counts of trade-secret theft.

From Reuters:

Federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a prison term of no more than 30 months as part of plea agreement in one of the most well-known corporate disputes in recent Silicon Valley history.

“We hope that this plea will allow him to move on with his life and focus his energies where they matter most,” developing new technologies, his attorney, Miles Ehrlich, said in a statement.

The U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco declined to comment.

And from The Wall Street Journal:

According to the plea agreement, Mr. Levandowski agreed to a level 17 offence, which has federal guidelines for a sentence of 24 to 30 months in prison.

Ehrlich has been with Levandowski for a while now, most memorably showing up in a different legal filing by a former nanny of Levandowski in January 2018. The former nanny, Erika Wong, accused Levandowski of violating employment law. Wired first reported:

In the complaint, Wong describes a scene from February 23 of last year, the day Waymo filed its lawsuit against Uber. When Wong arrived for work that evening, she says she saw Levandowski walking in circles in the living room, sweating profusely and talking to his lawyer, Miles Ehrlich, on the phone.

According to court records, Wong recalls Levandowski screaming, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! How could they do this to me? Miles, what about the clause, you … said this would work! What do I do with the discs? What do the contracts say? It’s all mine, the money, the deals, it’s all mine. What about ‘the shit?’ These are all my fucking deals!”

One can only imagine the conversation Levandowski had with Miles when he realised he would be pleading guilty. Still, it’s not a certainty that Levandowski will get prison time. The judge in the criminal case, filed in federal court in California, will ultimately decide, but defence lawyers in criminal cases like this strike deals with their eyes open.

That 24 to 30 months figure, in other words, isn’t random, but the result of a long negotiation. Aside from the possible prison time, Levandowski is also in a world of hurt financially. Again via Reuters:

Levandowski, who filed for bankruptcy on March 4 to negotiate his debts, also agreed to pay nearly $US756,500 ($1,305,887) in restitution to cover costs Alphabet bore assisting the government’s investigation, according to court papers.

The bankruptcy declaration followed a California state court confirming that Levandowski owes $US179 ($309) million to Google for violating employment contracts.

Uber indemnifies workers under its employment agreements but has said it expects to challenge paying the big judgment on behalf of its ex-employee.

You can read the full plea agreement below.