Remember Anthony Levandowski? The Google engineer who founded Waymo (back when it was the Google Self Driving car project), and then got sued by Google after Uber bought his company?
Not only did Levandowski lose his job at Uber and lose the civil case, federal prosecutors decided to press criminal charges against him as well. He was facing 18 months in jail imminently, with only the global pandemic buying him some extra time. On top of all that, Levandowski declared bankruptcy last May after a Judge ordered him to pay Google $179 million. Few people in the history of Silicon Valley have gotten fucked as hard as Levandowski did.
Well, good news for Levandowski: In the waning hours of the Trump administration, President Trump pardoned 73 individuals and commuted the sentence of another 70. Anthony Levandowski was one of them:
Anthony Levandowski – 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.White House
In August 2019, the U.S. District Attorney charged Levandowski alone with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets while working at Google. Levandowski and the U.S. District Attorney reached a plea deal in March 2020. Under that agreement, Levandowski admitted to downloading thousands of files related to Project Chauffeur. Specifically, he pleaded guilty to count 33 of the indictment, which is related to taking what was known as the Chauffeur Weekly Update, a spreadsheet that contained a variety of details including quarterly goals and weekly metrics as well as summaries of 15 technical challenges faced by the program and notes related to previous challenges that had been overcome.
The U.S. District Attorney’s office had recommended a 27-month sentence. Levandowski had sought a fine, 12 months home confinement and 200 hours of community service. Alsup ultimately determined that home confinement would “[give] a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets. Prison time is the answer to that.”
Instead, Alsup sentenced Lewandowski to 18 months, but delayed his prison time until the pandemic was under control. Levandowski also agreed to pay $756,499.22 in restitution to Waymo and a fine of $95,000.TechCrunch
This pardon is bound to be controversial, but I don’t think anyone is going to be encouraged to steal trade secrets because they think Levandowski got off easy. He definitely did not.
If Waymo was about to change the world, but Uber ended up taking over the market because Levandowski stole trade secrets –– well, then you’d have a stronger case that this was a serious crime. As it stands, Waymo has still not opened to the public in any form after over a decade of work. Uber’s self-driving car project completely shit the bed and got sold off, but not before killing a pedestrian. Sending someone to jail for this shit show seems a little excessive given how hard the companies have already owned themselves. Some would say the “trade secrets” that were stolen may prove to be worthless long term.
Imagine working at a company for 11 years and never launching a single product. I don’t really blame Levandowski for leaving and looking for a way to bring the technology to market faster. He may have screwed over his former employer –– who paid him a $127 million bonus for his work on Waymo –– but the public needs this technology as soon as it’s safely possible.
Everyone needs to take the law seriously and not steal trade secrets, but I’m happy Levandowski won’t be going to jail. I’d rather have him free, out there working hard to pay Waymo back those hundreds of millions of dollars he owes them. Besides, with everyone stuck at home the outside world is close enough to prison anyway.