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Ex-Google engineer granted full pardon backed by Trump's major tech ally, Peter Thiel

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Erin Fuchs
·Deputy Managing Editor
·2 min read
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Former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski leaves the federal court after his arraignment hearing in San Jose, California, U.S. August 27, 2019.  REUTERS/Stephen Lam
Former Google and Uber engineer Anthony Levandowski leaves the federal court after his arraignment hearing in San Jose, California, U.S. August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Early on Inauguration Day, President Donald Trump pardoned 73 people, including former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, who was convicted of stealing self-driving car trade secrets from the tech giant before heading over to work for Uber.

The pardon was backed by notable figures in tech, namely Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey and Peter Thiel, a PayPal co-founder who stood apart from others in left-leaning Silicon Valley by being a vocal supporter of the president.

In August 2020, Levandowski was sentenced to 18 months in prison for taking trade secrets from (GOOG, GOOGL) when he went on to found a self-driving truck startup called Otto, which Uber bought in 2016 for $680 million. After the deal, Levandowski worked on Uber’s (UBER) self-driving car project.

The year after the Otto-Uber deal, Google’s recently spun-out self-driving unit Waymo sued Uber, claiming that Levandowski had downloaded a staggering 14,000 files before decamping to start his own competitor. Uber settled the suit for $245 million in 2018, but the legal fallout was far from over for the former Google engineer.

The judge in the civil case ordered him to pay $179 million to Google, spurring the former engineer to file for bankruptcy. Then, in August 2019, Levandowski was indicted for theft of trade secrets in a federal court in San Jose, California, and he pleaded guilty the following year. While he was sentenced to over a year and a half in prison this past August, a federal judge ordered that he would not have to carry out his sentence until after the pandemic subsides.

“All of us have the right to change jobs,” U.S. Attorney David Anderson said in a statement following the indictment, “none of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.”

A spokesperson for Waymo declined to comment on the pardon. We also reached out to Uber and Levandowski’s lawyers for comment and will update this post with any comments we receive.

The White House, for its part, noted that his sentencing judge called him a “brilliant, groundbreaking engineer that our country needs.” The White House added, “Mr. Levandowski has paid a significant price for his actions and plans to devote his talents to advance the public good.”

Erin Fuchs is deputy managing editor at Yahoo Finance.

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