How Anthony Levandowski Escaped Paying for his Sins
As Donald Trump looked set to become a former president of the United States, he granted pardon to a man Google believed stole their secrets.
The US Constitution gives a president the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States…”
When a person is pardoned, the person’s slate is wiped clean and the restrictions a convicted person has, including on the right to vote and be voted for is removed.
The person’s crime or conviction is wiped away, because he has been pardoned by the president (or the governor).
This is to be separated from commutation. In the case of commutation, a criminal’s sentence is either reduced totally or partially.
You may recall that in April 2020, President Buhari pardoned 2,600 prisoners in other to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
So, as Donald Trump backed the White House for the last time as Commader-in-Chief, he decided to pardon 70 people and commute the sentences of a further 73 people.
According to the US Justice Department, Trump has issued 116 pardons and 89 commutations during his time as president, the vast majority of which were announced on his last day in office, including ones to former White House strategist Stephen Bannon and other longtime political allies.
But he is not by any stretch the first US president to do this. Obama issued a total of 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations during his two terms in office. In his final weeks in office, Obama commuted the sentences of 1,043 people and pardoned 142.
Clinton pardoned 396 people. Reagan did 393 people; Carter did 534 people. Kennedy did 472 people.
In probably the most important presidential pardon in history, Gerald Ford issued a pre-emptive pardon in 1974 to disgraced former president Richard Nixon for any crimes Nixon may have committed while in the White House — ending any possibility for indictment around the Watergate scandal.
Trump was expected to issue this kind of pardon to himself and members of his family, but he did not. It is left to be seen if this is a wise move seeing the avalanche of people seeking his head.
In any case, out of the people Trump pardoned was his rapper friend, Lil Wayne, who had pleaded guilty in federal court in December to illegally possessing a firearm and faced up to 10 years in prison.
But the most curious to many in the business community was to Anthony Levandowski.
Levandowski was a founding member of Google’s self-driving car project (Project Chauffer) before it was known as Waymo. He worked there for 7 years, from 2009 to 20016. In 2016, the engineer left to found a self-driving car startup dubbed Otto, a business that was acquired just months later by Uber.
While at Uber, it was discovered that as Anthony was preparing to leave Google, he downloaded thousands of Project Chauffer files onto his personal laptop.
He also admitted downloading a variety of files from a corporate Google Drive repository. Among these files was an internal tracking document entitled “Chauffeur TL weekly updates — Q4 2015.” The update contained a variety of confidential details regarding the status of Project Chauffer. Levandowski admitted he downloaded this file with the intent to use it to benefit himself and Uber Technologies, Inc.
In arguing their case, prosecutors presented evidence to the court that Anthony’s conducts were even more brazen and shocking. He did not just download files from his team’s folders, but he broke into the internal, password-protected Google server and downloaded thousands of files to use where he was going.
In sentencing Levandowski, Judge Alsup observed “this is the biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen. This was not small. This was massive in scale.”
This was from a judge who was nominated by President Bill Clinton as far back as 1999 to a seat on the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. A judge who has presided over landmark cases including Oracle vs Google (Fun fact: he learned the Java programming language solely for the purpose of being able to understand the case more clearly).
Of course, Uber fired Anthony in 2017 as Google had also sued Uber for the trade secrets that had appeared in Uber lidar designs, the specialized sensor that helps self-driving cars see. They settled the suit in terms I consider quite favorable to Google (including 0.34% stake in Uber, valued at approximately $245 million).
At the end, Levandowski pled guilty to stealing trade secrets and was forced to declare bankruptcy after the court asked him to pay $179 million to Google. He was also sentenced to 18 months in jail and a 3-year period of supervised release. Levandowski was due to begin serving the sentence when risks from the COVID-19 have subsided.
However, after lobbies from a raft of noble Silicon Valley players who are especially close to Donald Trump including venture capitalist Peter Thiel, and former Walt Disney executive Michael Ovitz, Levandowski has been pardoned.
Late Tuesday, the White House said that Levandowski’s “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.’”
It is hard to imagine that Google (and Google’s parent company, Alphabet) is pleased with this outcome.
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