Ex-Google engineer Anthony Levandowski yesterday was sentenced to 18 months in prison following his March guilty plea for stealing a confidential document related to Google’s self-driving technology.
Levandowski’s lawyers last week asked a judge in US District Court for the Northern District of California to let him off without any prison time, arguing that a year of home confinement, a fine, restitution, and community service would be sufficient punishment. The federal government asked for a 27-month prison sentence.
While handing down the 18-month sentence, US District Judge William Alsup said that a sentence without imprisonment would give “a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets,” according to a Reuters report. Levandowski was originally charged with 33 counts of stealing trade secrets by downloading thousands of documents to his personal laptop in December 2015 shortly before he left Google to work on his startup, Otto, which was acquired by Uber for a reported $680 million in August 2016. In a plea deal, Levandowksi admitted to stealing one document called “Chauffeur TL weekly updates,” which tracked the progress of Google’s “Project Chauffeur” that later became Waymo. Prosecutors dropped the other charges.
Levandowski won’t have to serve the sentence right away, as Alsup ruled that he can go to prison after the coronavirus pandemic subsides, according to Reuters and other news outlets.
Levandowski also must pay $756K to Waymo
Alsup, a 75-year-old judge who has been at the Northern District court since 1999, described the stolen document as a “competitor’s game plan” and called Levandowksi’s theft the “biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen,” according to Reuters. “Billions [of dollars] in the future were at play, and when those kind of financial incentives are there, good people will do terrible things, and that’s what happened here,” Alsup said. Uber fired Levandowski in May 2017 after he invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions in the legal battle with Google.
Levandowski’s lawyers argued that home confinement was appropriate because he had suffered two bouts of pneumonia in recent years and was therefore at high risk of getting COVID-19 in prison. After yesterday’s sentencing, Levandowski’s lawyers said in a statement that “Anthony deeply regrets his past decisions and, while we are saddened that he will have to spend time in prison, Anthony remains committed to his life’s mission of building innovative technologies to improve people’s lives,” according to The New York Times.
Levandowski, who filed for bankruptcy in March, agreed to pay $756,499 in restitution to Waymo, the Google self-driving company that is now a subsidiary of Google owner Alphabet, the Times wrote. He was originally ordered to pay Waymo $179 million but wasn’t able to. Levandowski also must pay a fine of $95,000.
Uber and Waymo agreed to a $244 million settlement in 2018. Lior Ron, another ex-Google employee who cofounded Otto with Levandowski, settled with Waymo for $9.7 million. Ron is still an executive at Uber, and Uber reportedly paid the settlement to Waymo on his behalf.