On Wednesday, President Donald Trump granted a full pardon to Anthony Levandowski, a former Google and Uber engineer and self-driving car expert, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison in August 2020 for stealing trade secrets from Google. He had also been ordered to pay a $95,000 fine and $756,500 in restitution.
Levandowski pioneered self-driving car technology at Google and made millions. He quit the company to found Otto, a self-driving car startup that he sold to ride-hailing giant Uber in 2016 for an estimated $680 million. But a year later, Waymo, Google’s self-driving car unit, sued Uber for stealing the company’s trade secrets and said that Levandowski had taken thousands of Google files, including confidential product designs, with him before he left.
The companies eventually settled when Uber offered Waymo nearly $250 million in stock and agreed not to infringe on the company’s intellectual property.
But in August 2019, federal prosecutors charged Levandowski with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft. In March last year, Levandowski had pleaded guilty to just one. A judge in the case had agreed to let Levandowski stay out of prison until the coronavirus pandemic was over.
“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 the pardon and called him “an American entrepreneur who led Google’s efforts to create self-driving technology.”
Among the people supporting the pardon are pro-Trump Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel, and Oculus founder Palmer Luckey who once donated money to a pro-Trump non-profit associated with the alt-right.
A Waymo spokesperson declined to comment on Levandowski’s pardon.
Uber did not immediately respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News.