Who is Anthony Levandowski? Donald Trump Pardons Engineer Who Stole Google Trade Secrets

In one of his last major acts as president, Donald Trump announced on Tuesday he was granting a full pardon to Anthony Levandowski, the engineer who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stealing Google trade secrets.

In 2009, Levandowski had a key role in Google's self-driving project Chauffeur, now known as Waymo. In 2016, he started the self-driving trucking company Otto, which was acquired by Uber that same year. He was made head of Uber's self-driving division.

Levandowski's high-profile legal troubles started after Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber in 2017, which included the allegation the engineer downloaded thousands of secret files onto his personal laptop before leaving the tech giant.

Uber fired Levandowski in May 2017, saying he failed to meet a deadline as part of its probe into the intellectual property theft. Uber and Waymo settled the lawsuit in February 2018, which included a suspected $245 million deal.

In August last year, the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced Levandowski had pleaded guilty to one of the 33 counts of trade secrets theft in relation to Google's self-driving car program filed in 2019. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

U.S District Judge William Alsup ruled he would begin serving his prison sentence at a later date due to the health risks associated with the COVID pandemic.

Levandowski admitted to downloading thousands of Project Chauffeur files onto his personal laptop in 2016 as he was preparing to leave Google, including material from a corporate Google Drive repository, the agency said in a release.

One of the files was a Q4 2015 document that included non-public details regarding the status of Project Chauffeur. Levandowski admitted as part of the plea he had taken the files "with the intent to use it to benefit himself and Uber Technologies."

He admitted that the stolen file was a Google trade secret and that "a reasonable estimate of the loss attributable to his theft was up to $1,500,000," the DoJ said. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the other 32 charges against the engineer.

District Judge Alsup said at the time it was "the biggest trade secret crime" he had ever seen and described the full suite allegations as being "massive in scale."

In its announcement this week, the White House said Levandowski's full pardon was supported by the billionaire pro-Trump tech businessman Peter Thiel.

The White House added: Levandowski is an American entrepreneur who led Google's efforts to create self-driving technology. [He] 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.' Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good."

Alsup had also noted a sentence of home confinement would be "a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets. Prison time is the answer to that." Prosecutors initially pushed for 27 months in prison.

Anthony Levandowski
Former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski gives a statement to reporters after a court appearance at the Phillip Burton Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse on September 24, 2019 in San Francisco, California. Levandowski was granted a full pardon by President Donald Trump. Justin Sullivan/Getty