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 past decade, agreed to plead guilty on Thursday for receiving confidential documents from his former employer Google before joining rival Uber Technologies Inc .

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

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

"We hope that this call will allow him to continue his life and focus his energies where they matter most," said Miles Ehrlich's lawyer, developing new technologies.

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

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The firm is charged with policing intellectual property theft at the largest technology center in the United States. Last month, what was left of a trade secret theft case involving portable device company Fitbit Inc and now-defunct rival Jawbone was removed after a San Francisco jury acquitted the first accused.

The Levandowski case stemmed from accusations by Google, Alphabet Inc., and its sister company Waymo in 2017, that Uber started its own autonomous car development with trade secrets and employees that Levandowski illegally withdrew from Google.

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Uber issued shares of the company to Alphabet and revised its software to liquidate, and the Justice Department later announced a 33-count criminal charge 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 in each case, if convicted.

But he is pleading guilty to one charge, which accused him of downloading to his personal computer a file that accompanied the technical goals of Google's standalone project. A sentencing hearing has not been scheduled.

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"I downloaded these files with the intention of using them for my personal benefit and I understand that I was not authorized to take them for that purpose," said Levandowski in court documents.

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

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

Uber indemnifies workers under their employment contracts, but said it hopes to challenge payment of the grand trial on behalf of its former employee.

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

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