On his final night in office, former President Trump pardoned a former executive of Google and Uber, Anthony Levandowski.Levandowski pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets from Google’s self-driving division to benefit himself and Uber as part of a plea agreement. Levandowski was sentenced to 18 months in prison but had not begun to serve his time because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On his last night as president, Donald Trump issued 73 pardons and commuted the sentences of 70 individuals. One of those pardoned was Anthony Levandowski, the former tech executive who pleaded guilty to charges of stealing trade secrets from Google’s self-driving-car division (now called Waymo), ahead of leaving the company to start his own self-driving technology company. Levandowski worked at Google from 2009 until 2016. He admitted that in 2016, as he was getting ready to leave the company, he downloaded thousands of Google files onto his personal laptop, including proprietary schematics and designs for lidar. In court proceedings, he admitted that he planned to use the files to benefit himself and his new employer, Uber. Levandowski left Google in 2016 to start his own autonomous trucking company, Otto, which was quickly acquired by Uber for $680 million. At that point, he took over control of the self-driving development at both companies. In 2017, Google accused Uber and Levandowski of stealing self-driving trade secrets. In May 2017, Uber fired Levandowski after he repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself and refused to hand over evidence and testimony after being ordered to do so by a federal judge. Uber eventually settled with Google and agreed to pay $245 million in 2018.After charges were filed against Levandowski, he pleaded guilty to 33 counts of trade secret theft as part of a plea agreement in 2019. In August 2020, he was sentenced to serve 18 months in prison for his crimes and to pay a $95,000 fine and $756,499.22 in restitution. At the sentencing, Judge William Alsup said, “This is the biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen. This was not small. This was massive in scale.”The sentence was never carried out. A plan was set in motion to incarcerate Levandowski after current COVID-19 risks had subsided. With Trump’s pardon, Levandowski has been spared that jail time. He took to Twitter to express his relief.
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In a statement, the Trump administration noted the pardon was supported by tech-industry insiders including Facebook board member Peter Thiel and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey. New York Times reporter Mike Isaac, who covered the saga and wrote a book titled Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, commented to Car and Driver: “Trump coming in at the last minute to pluck Levandowski out of harm’s way is just the perfect ending to a completely wild story. An almost too on-the-nose finale for an already unpredictable saga.”
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