SAN JOSE, CA — A top Google executive, who spearheaded the development of the self-driving car under its Waymo division and later went to work for Uber with that knowledge, pleaded not guilty in federal court in San Jose Tuesday afternoon for sharing trade secrets with rival companies.
The indictment of Anthony Scott Levandowski, 39, of Marin County, indicates how he used critical company information gained as a Google engineer and one of the founding members its self-driving car project called “Project Chauffeur” for his own private gain, the U.S. Attorney’s Office contends. Levandowski used project files that morphed into Waymo to enter in negotiations with ride-sharing giant San Francisco-based Uber after it bought other competing firms creating self-driving car projects. With Alphabet as its parent corporation, Waymo is a division of Google based in Mountain View.
The case reads like something out of a Tom Clancy novel.
The alleged theft is estimated to be valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a civil suit settled between Waymo and Uber in 2018.
Attorneys for Levandowski insist the defendant was authorized to download the information while he was at the company, and that the indictment is “rehashing” claims discredited in the civil lawsuit, where Waymo accepted a $245 million settlement from Uber.
“For more than a decade, Anthony Levandowski has been an industry-leading innovator in the field of self-driving car and truck technologies,” Levandowski’s attorney Miles Ehrlich said in front of the courthouse Tuesday, along with attorney Ismail Ramsey. “Anthony is innocent
and we look forward to proving it in trial.”
Levandowski appeared in a suit for his arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nathanael Cousins in federal court Tuesday afternoon.
He was in custody and joined in the hearing room by his father, stepmother and close friend and business partner, who co-signed property in a $2 million bond for his release.
Levandowski worked on the Waymo project from 2009 until he resigned from Google’s parent company, Alphabet, without notice on Jan. 27, 2016.
“All of us have the right to change jobs,” U.S. Attorney David L Anderson said. “None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.”
At the time of his resignation, Levandowski was the lead of Google’s Light Detecting and Ranging, aka LiDAR, engineering team. The indictment alleges that in the months before his departure, Levandowski downloaded from secure Google repositories numerous engineering, manufacturing and business files related to Google’s custom LiDAR and self-driving car technology.
The files downloaded included circuit board schematics, instructions for installing and testing LiDAR and an internal tracking document. The indictment also dictates the time he took the files was critical. Levandowski was involved with two companies competing with Google in the self-driving space, including Tyto LiDAR LLC and 280 Systems, Inc. The latter would become Ottomotto, which bought Tyto in May 2016, shortly after the ride sharing giant Uber Technologies, Inc. agreed to acquire Ottomotto and hire Levandowski.
The indictment charges Levandowski on suspicion of 33 counts of theft and the attempted theft of trade secrets.
If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution, for each violation.
The prosecution is being handled by the Office of the U.S. Attorney, Northern District of California’s new Corporate Fraud Strike Force and is the result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
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Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Wawrzyniak argued Levandowski could pose a flight risk due to his dual citizenship in the U.S. and France, but he has turned in his passports to the FBI and will not be allowed to re-apply for new documents.