President Donald Trump has pardoned Anthony Levandowski, a former Google and Uber engineer and a pioneer of self-driving car tech who pleaded guilty last year to stealing trade secrets from the internet giant.
Levandowski first worked at Google but left it in 2016 to start his own self-driving truck company, which was quickly acquired by Uber for $680 million. That led to Google's autonomous vehicle unit, Waymo, suing Uber over alleged theft of self-driving car trade secrets. That lawsuit was settled in February 2018 with Uber agreeing to pay Waymo $245 million.
Prosecutors also charged Levandowski with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google. He pleaded guilty to one count of trade secret theft as part of a deal in which federal prosecutors agreed to drop the remaining charges.
"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 a filing last March with the US District Court of the Northern District of California. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison last summer.
"Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good," Trump said in granting the pardon. He added that it was "strongly supported" by tech and entertainment figures such as Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and Hollywood agent Michael Ovitz.
Google sued Levandowski individually in arbitration over quitting his job and breaking his contract with the tech giant. That case concluded in 2019 with a panel agreeing to penalize Levandowski with a massive $179 million fine. Hours after the multimillion-dollar award to Google was finalized, Levandowski filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Levandowski thanked Trump for the pardon in a tweet early Wednesday.
"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," Levandowski said.
Google and Uber didn't respond to a request for comment.
In total, Trump granted pardons and commutations to 143 people Tuesday evening, including a full pardon for rapper/singer/songwriter/producer Lil Wayne, who was scheduled for a sentencing hearing later this month for carrying a gold-plated handgun in his luggage on a private flight to south Florida. Trump also commuted the sentence of singer-songwriter Bill K. Kapri, better known as Kodak Black, who was sentenced to 46 months in prison for making a false statement on a federal document when trying to procure firearms from a federally licensed firearms dealer.