Engineer Anthony Levandowski, noted for advancing self-driving car technology in the previous decade, agreed to plead guilty last week on Thursday to taking sensitive documents from his former employer Google before he joined rival Uber Technologies Inc.
Federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a prison term of at least 30 months as part of plea agreement among the most well-known corporate disputes in the Silicon Valley history of recent times.
“We hope that this plea will allow him to move on with his life and focus his energies where they matter most,” developing new technologies, his attorney, Miles Ehrlich, stated.
The U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco refused to comment.
The office is tasked with checking intellectual property theft in the largest U.S. tech hub. In the previous month, it dropped what remained of a trade secrets theft case associating wearable device company Fitbit Inc and now-defunct rival Jawbone after a jury of San Francisco acquitted the first defendant.
The Levandowski case emerged from allegations by Alphabet Inc’s Google and its sister company Waymo in 2017 that Uber jump-started its own self-driving car development with trade secrets and staff that Levandowski illegally took from Google.
Uber issued company stock to Alphabet and modified its software to settle, and the Department of Justice later declared 33-count criminal indictment against Levandowski.
Prosecutors alleged Levandowski of stealing materials in late 2015 and early 2016 after deciding to quit Google and form his own company, Ottomotto, which Uber later purchased.
He faced 10 years in prison per count if convicted.
But he is pleading guilty to one count, which alleged him of downloading to his personal computer a file that tracked technical aims for Google’s self-driving project. A sentencing hearing has not been planned.
“I downloaded these files with the intent to use them for my own personal benefit, and I understand that I was not allowed to take the files for that purpose,” Levandowski stated in court papers.
Levandowski, who filed for bankruptcy on March 4 to negotiate his debts, also accepted to pay almost $756,500 in restitution to cover costs Alphabet bore helping the government’s investigation, according to court papers.
The bankruptcy declaration came after a confirmation from California state court that Levandowski owes $179 million to Google for breaching employment contracts.
Uber indemnifies employees under its employment agreements but has stated it expects to challenge paying the big judgment on behalf of its former worker.