March 19, 2020 / 11:35 PM / 12 days ago

Former Uber self-driving head Levandowski agrees to plea deal over Google secrets

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Engineer Anthony Levandowski, known for advancing self-driving car technology in the last decade, agreed to plead guilty on Thursday to taking sensitive documents from his former employer Google before joining rival Uber Technologies Inc.

FILE PHOTO: Former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski leaves the federal court after his arraignment hearing in San Jose, California, U.S. August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Federal prosecutors agreed to recommend a prison term of no more than 30 months as part of plea agreement in one of the most well-known corporate disputes in recent Silicon Valley history.

“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, said in a statement.

The U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco declined to comment.

The office is tasked with policing intellectual property theft in the largest U.S. tech hub. Last month, it dropped what remained of a trade secrets theft case involving wearable device company Fitbit Inc and now-defunct rival Jawbone after a San Francisco jury acquitted the first defendant.

The Levandowski case stemmed from accusations 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 unlawfully took from Google.

Uber issued company stock to Alphabet and revised its software to settle, and the Department of Justice later announced a 33-count criminal indictment against Levandowski.

Prosecutors accused Levandowski of stealing materials in late 2015 and early 2016 after deciding to leave Google and form his own company, Ottomotto, which Uber later bought.

He faced 10 years in prison on each count if convicted.

But he is pleading guilty to one count, which accused him of downloading to his personal computer a file that tracked technical goals for Google’s self-driving project. A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.

“I downloaded these files with the intent to use them for my own personal benefit, and I understand that I was not authorized to take the files for that purpose,” Levandowski said in court papers.

Levandowski, who filed for bankruptcy on March 4 to negotiate his debts, also agreed to pay nearly $756,500 in restitution to cover costs Alphabet bore assisting the government’s investigation, according to court papers.

The bankruptcy declaration followed a California state court confirming that Levandowski owes $179 million to Google for violating employment contracts.

Uber indemnifies workers under its employment agreements but has said it expects to challenge paying the big judgment on behalf of its ex-employee.

Reporting by Paresh Dave; Editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman

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