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Ex-Uber engineer Levandowski pleads guilty to trade secrets theft

He faces up to 10 years in prison for stealing trade secrets from Google.

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Former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski leaves federal court in San Jose, California, after a hearing in September 2019.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Anthony Levandowski, former Google engineer and a pioneer of self-driving car tech, agreed to plead guilty Thursday to stealing trade secrets from the internet giant.

Levandowski left Google in 2016 to start his own self-driving truck company, which was quickly acquired by Uber for $680 million. These actions set off a chain of events that led to Google's autonomous vehicle unit, Waymo, suing Uber over alleged theft of self-driving car trade secrets. That lawsuit settled in February 2018 with Uber agreeing to pay Waymo $245 million.

The prosecutors indicted Levandowski in August in a suit that involves 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google. The activities allegedly took place as he prepared to leave the search giant to build out Uber's self-driving car operation. 

Levandowski pleaded guilty to one count of trade secret theft in an agreement in which federal prosecutors agree to drop the remaining charges, according to a filing with the US District Court of the Northern District of California. The plea carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.

"I downloaded these files with the intent to use them for my own personal benefit, and I understand that I was not authorized to take the files for this purpose," Levandowski said in the filing.

No sentencing date has yet been scheduled.

Earlier this month, Levandowski was ordered to pay $179 million to Google for quitting his job and breaking his contract with the tech giant. Hours after the $179 million award to Google was finalized Wednesday, Levandowski filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.