Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer at the center of the battle between Uber and Waymo over self-driving technology, is facing federal criminal charges of trade-secrets theft.
Levandowski, a founding member of Google’s self-driving project, downloaded engineering, manufacturing and business files related to Google’s custom lidar and self-driving car technology, according to the indictment unsealed Monday.
He then founded Otto, a San Francisco-based self-driving truck startup, and sold it to Uber for $680 million in 2016. Google self-driving spinoff Waymo sued Uber, and the two companies settled in February 2018 for $245 million.
“Silicon Valley is not the Wild West,” John Bennett, the FBI special agent in charge of the case, said Tuesday during a news conference announcing the charges. “A fast-paced and competitive environment does not mean federal laws don’t apply or that they can be ignored.”
Levandowski’s attorneys say the files their client downloaded did not go to Uber.
“The evidence in this case is going to show conclusively that Anthony did not steal anything,” Miles Ehrlich, one of his attorneys, said Tuesday during a news conference. “The allegations in this case are basically a rehash of claims that were already discredited in a civil lawsuit between Waymo and Uber that settled more than a year and a half ago.”
It is unclear why the charges are being brought against Levandowski at this time.
“We charged this case when we felt it was ready to be charged,” said U.S. Attorney David Anderson in response to a question during Tuesday’s news conference.
Levandowski is charged with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. He was in charge of the lidar division at Google’s self-driving project, which built its own lidar systems. Lidar uses laser beams to help vehicles measure distance and return 3D images that autonomous vehicles use for mapping.
In addition to ride-hailing, Uber has set its sights on self-driving vehicles, delivery services such as Uber Eats and more.
Uber fired Levandowski in 2017 after the company — which was trying to prove it did not use stolen technology — reportedly asked him to hand over information relating to the Waymo lawsuit, but he refused. He has since co-founded and was CEO of another self-driving truck company, Pronto.ai, in San Francisco.
Pronto said Tuesday that it has appointed a new chief executive, Robbie Miller, “as a result of today’s events.” Miller had been the company’s chief safety officer.
“The criminal charges filed against Anthony relate exclusively to lidar and do not in any way involve Pronto’s ground-breaking technology,” a company spokesman said. “Of course, we are fully supportive of Anthony and his family during this period.”
An Uber spokesman said Tuesday that the company has “cooperated with the government throughout their investigation and will continue to do so.”
Waymo has not returned a request for comment.
Levandowski, who according to the indictment is a resident of Marin County, turned himself in and is scheduled to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court for the Northern California Division in San Jose.
This story will be updated.