Anthony Levandowski, the former Google executive who pleaded guilty to stealing secrets from Google to create his own company developing autonomous-driving technology, has been pardoned by outgoing President Donald Trump.
Levandowski’s name had not popped up on the media coverage of potential pardons so President Trump’s granting of clemency comes as something of a surprise.
Levandowski pleaded guilty in March and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. However, a search of the prisoners’ database of the Federal Bureau of Prisons showed that while he had an inmate number and was registered with the bureau, he was not currently in the custody of the federal government.
In the prepared statement announcing his statement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California said the sentencing would start when COVID was less of a problem.
Levandowski pleaded guilty in March but the sentencing came in September. He was also ordered to pay a $95,000 fine and restitution of slightly more than $750,000.
In his plea, Levandowski, 40, pleaded guilty to one of the 33 counts against him that he had stolen secrets from Google’s “Project Chauffeur.” Soon after, Levandowski started his own autonomous vehicle company named Otto that was ultimately acquired by Uber. Google’e self-driving unit Waymo then sued Uber over what it said was theft of corporate secrets, which resulted in Uber paying Google $245 million.
In the White House statement spelling out the pardons, Levandowski’s clemency was said to be supported by, among others, Peter Thiel. Thiel, whose entrepreneurial efforts include PayPal and Palantir Technologies, is notable as a strong Trump supporter in a Silicon Valley where that is a rare breed. Others who were listed as backing the pardon include Michael Ovitz, the founder and former head of the CAA talent agency.
“Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good,” the White House said in its statement.
In the U.S. Attorney for Northern California’s statement on the Levandowski guilty plea and sentencing, the prepared statement announcing the deal quoted the sentencing judge, William H. Alsup, as describing Levandowski’s actions as “the biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen.”
“This was massive in scale,” he said.