Just hours before leaving the White House, President Trump pardoned Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer from Berkeley who pleaded guilty to stealing trade secrets about driverless cars from Google and was facing 18 months in prison.
Levandowski, who once had a home on Ashby Avenue that was picketed in 2014 by activists concerned about Google’s “evil surveillance techniques,” worked in Google’s self-driving car section, now called Waymo. He left to form his own driverless truck company, Otto, but not before downloading thousands of proprietary files from Google, he admitted in federal court in August when he pleaded guilty. Levandowski sold the truck company to Uber in 2016.
“Mr. Levandowski is an American entrepreneur who led Google’s efforts to create self-driving technology,” said a statement from the White House announcing more than 143 pardons and sentence commutations. “Mr. Levandowski pled guilty to a single criminal count arising from civil litigation. Notably, his sentencing judge called him a ‘brilliant, groundbreaking engineer that our country needs.’ Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good.”
The statement failed to note that U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup also said, as he sentenced Levandowski to 18 months in prison, that: “This is the biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen. This was not small. This was massive in scale.”
Levandowski’s sentence had been postponed because of the pandemic. Trump’s pardon means the 40-year-old, who now lives in Marin County, won’t ever go to jail for this crime.
The people promoting Levandowski’s pardon included James Ramsey, Peter Thiel, Miles Ehrlich, Amy Craig, Michael Ovitz, Palmer Luckey, Ryan Petersen, Ken Goldberg, Mike Jensen, Nate Schimmel, Trae Stephens, Blake Masters and James Proud, according to the White House.
Levandowski posted a thank you statement on Twitter at 12:05 a.m., right after the White House announced his pardon.
My family and I are grateful for the opportunity to move forward, and thankful to the President and others who supported and advocated on my behalf.— Anthony Levandowski (@antlevandowski) January 20, 2021
Less clear is what will happen to the reparations that Levandowski had been ordered to pay. As part of his sentence, he had agreed to pay a $95,000 fine and $756,499.22 in restitution to Waymo.
Levandowski filed for personal bankruptcy, but, prior to that, he had been an investor in 2201 Dwight Way, an apartment complex with rooftop gardens.
Levandowski’s journey in the driverless car business is documented in a recently published book by a former Berkeley resident, Alex Davies, called Driven: The Race to Create the Autonomous Car.