Listen to this article
In one of his final acts in office, President Trump issued 73 full pardons and commuted 70 sentences late Tuesday evening. Anthony Levandowski, the former Google and Uber autonomous vehicle engineer who was sentenced to 18 months in prison on one count of stealing trade secrets, received one of those pardons. With the full pardon, he will no longer serve any time in prison.
Levandowski was sentenced to prison in August 2020 for stealing documents from Google’s self-driving car unit, Waymo, before he left to start autonomous trucking company Otto. Eight months after Otto launched, it was acquired by Uber in August 2016. And two months after the Uber acquisition, Google made two arbitration demands against Levandowski and another Otto co-founder Lior Ron.
He was accused of downloading 14,000 Waymo files as he prepared to leave Google. He was facing 33 counts, each of which carried a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. He pled guilty to just one count in March 2020, which accused him of downloading to his personal computer a file that tracked technical goals for Google’s self-driving project. He said the file would benefit him and Uber.
Levandowski was to start serving the jail time when the COVID-19 pandemic ended. He was also ordered to pay $179 million to Google, which led him to file for bankruptcy.
Levandowski released the following statement about the pardon on Twitter:
My family and I are grateful for the opportunity to move forward, and thankful to the President and others who supported and advocated on my behalf.
— Anthony Levandowski (@antlevandowski) January 20, 2021
US District Judge William Alsup called Levandowski a “brilliant, groundbreaking engineer that our country needs” when he handed down his prison sentence. But Alsup refused to give Levandowski a lighter sentence as it would have given “a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets.”
“This was the biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen,” Alsup said. “This was not small. This was massive in scale.”
In a statement, the White House said Levandowski paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good. The statement also said the pardon was supported by many leading technologists and investors. Here is the full statement:
“President Trump granted a full pardon to Anthony Levandowski. This pardon is strongly supported by James Ramsey, Peter Thiel, Miles Ehrlich, Amy Craig, Michael Ovitz, Palmer Luckey, Ryan Petersen, Ken Goldberg, Mike Jensen, Nate Schimmel, Trae Stephens, Blake Masters, and James Proud, among others. Mr. Levandowski is an American entrepreneur who led Google’s efforts to create self-driving technology. Mr. Levandowski pled guilty to a single criminal count arising from civil litigation. Notably, his sentencing judge called him a “brilliant, groundbreaking engineer that our country needs.” Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good.”
As you might notice, the White House statement didn’t include Alsup’s comment about the gravity of Levandowski’s crime.
Uber fired Levandowski after Google sued. He remains in a legal battle with Uber, claiming it should be liable for the $179 million he was ordered to pay Google. In a separate suit, Levandowski has argued Uber owes him billions of dollars in lost value from the Otto deal.
In other autonomous vehicle news, San Francisco-based Cruise raised another $2 billion yesterday, raising its post-money valuation is $30 billion. Microsoft participated in the round, contributing an undisclosed amount of funding to Cruise. Microsoft and Cruise have also formed a “long-term partnership” in which Cruise will use Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service for its autonomous vehicles.