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Ex-Google Exec Gets Prison for Stealing Robocar Secrets

Anthony Levandowski also ordered to pay more than $850K
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 5, 2020 12:05 AM CDT

(Newser) – A former Google engineer has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to stealing trade secrets before joining Uber's effort to build robotic vehicles for its ride-hailing service. The sentence handed down Tuesday by US District Judge William Alsup came more than four months after former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski reached a plea agreement with the federal prosecutors who brought a criminal case against him last August, the AP reports. Levandowski, who helped steer Google's self-driving car project before landing at Uber, was also ordered to pay more than $850,000. The accusations turned the 40-year-old Levandowski, once highly regarded for his early inroads into self-driving cars, into a notorious figure “almost synonymous with greed run amok in Silicon Valley," his own lawyers acknowledged in court documents filed last week.

Alsup had taken the unusual step of recommending the Justice Department open a criminal investigation into Levandowski while presiding over a high-profile civil trial between Uber and Waymo, a spinoff from a self-driving car project that Google began in 2007 after hiring Levandowski to be part of its team. Levandowski eventually became disillusioned with Google and left the company in early 2016 to start his own self-driving truck company, called Otto, which Uber eventually bought for $680 million. Before leaving Google, though, Levandowski downloaded a trove of Google's self-driving car technology, resulting in him facing 33 counts of intellectual property theft. He wound up pleading guilty to one count, culminating in Tuesday's sentencing. His lawyers argued Levandowski deserved some leniency because there was never any evidence that he used Google's trade secrets while overseeing Uber's self-driving car division, a job he lost in 2017 amid the civil suit, which was ultimately settled for $245 million.

(Read more self-driving car stories.)

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