Former Google Engineer Anthony Levandowski Escapes 32 Of 33 Charges In Waymo Theft Plea Deal

Anthony Levandowski in 2016, when he still worked for Uber. (Photo: Eric Risberg, AP)

Anthony Levandowski, the ex-Google autonomous vehicle engineer slapped with 33 charges of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets last year, has struck a deal with Uncle Sam to plead guilty and escape with just one guilty plea, per the Wall Street Journal.

The Journal wrote that Levandowski will plead guilty to one charge of theft of trade secrets for accessing an update to “Project Chauffeur,” Google’s self-driving car initiative that was later spun off into a separate division called Waymo. That is a level 17 offence that comes with a possible prison term of 24-30 months in prison, with Levandowski also agreeing to pay Waymo $US756,499 ($1,303,079) in restitution. Prosecutors alleged that Levandowski stole over 14,000 files from his former employer and the original charges could have sent him to prison for 10 years.

"I downloaded these files with the intent to use them for my own personal benefit, and I understand that I was not authorised to take the files for this purpose," Levandowski said in the plea agreement seen by the New York Times.

After taking materials from Waymo in 2015 and 2016, Levandowski started his own company, Ottomotto, which he then sold to Google’s competitor Uber. A legal battle between Waymo and Uber ended in 2018 with a settlement that gave Google $US245 ($422) million in Uber stock. Levandowski also agreed this month to pay an arbitration award worth $US179 ($308) million to Google, according to the Journal, and has filed for bankruptcy with “estimated assets of $US50 ($86) million to $US100 ($172) million and estimated liabilities of $US100 ($172) million to $US500 ($861) million.” Uber terminated Levandowski in 2017 and he is fighting the company in court over who is on the line for the $US179 ($308) million, according to the Journal.

"Mr. Levandowski accepts responsibility and is looking forward to resolving this," his attorney, Miles Ehrlich, told the Journal in a 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."

"Mr. Levandowski’s guilty plea in a criminal hearing today brings to an end a seminal case for our company and the self-driving industry, and underscores the value of Waymo’s intellectual property," Waymo told the Verge in a statement. "Through today’s developments and related cases, we are successfully protecting our intellectual property as we build the world’s most experienced driver."

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