Former Alphabet employee, Marin County resident and self-driving technology wunderkind Anthony Levandowski was one of 143 people to receive a last-minute pardon from Donald Trump on his way out of the White House — which means he will avoid the 18-month prison sentence he received last August.
Levandowski is an engineer and was one of the heads of Google/Alphabet's self-driving car division, now known as Waymo, and he famously jumped ship in 2016 to take an extraordinarily lucrative offer from Uber that included $680 million to buy a self-driving truck startup he had separately founded called Otto. In February 2017, Alphabet went public with accusations that Levandowski had taken more than 14,000 files with him — about 9.7 gigabytes of data — pertaining to the LiDAR technology that is central to autonomous vehicle navigation. Levandowski ultimately pleaded guilty in March of last year to 1 out of 33 criminal counts against him, and in August received his sentence — agreeing also to give regular public speeches expressing contrition for his acts.
In sentencing him, U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup said, "This is the biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen. This was not small. This was massive in scale."
Due to the pandemic, Levandowski had not yet begun serving his prison sentence, and now he won't have to.
"Mr. Levandowski is an American entrepreneur who led Google’s efforts to create self-driving technology," Trump said a statement from the White House issued early Wednesday. "Mr. Levandowski pled guilty to a single criminal count arising from civil litigation. Notably, his 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."
Levandowski still owes $179 million to Alphabet as part of an arbitrated contract dispute that was settled last March, and that's not going away. And it's unclear whether the presidential pardon absolves him of the relatively much smaller arbitration payment ordered in his plea agreement of $756,499.
Among the 143 pardons Trump issued in his last hours in office were one for former aide Steve Bannon, who was indicted last year in connection with a scheme that raised $25 million to help build a border wall, the funds from which Bannon and his associates allegedly fraudulently used as their own. Bannon had not yet stood trial in the case, making the pardon somewhat unusual.
Also pardoned were the rappers Lil Wayne (who pleaded guilty in December to being a felon in possession of a gun), and Kodak Black, who was serving four years on a gun-related charge. There was also a pardon for a friend of Jared Kushner's, Ken Kurson, who was charged with cyberstalking last year in a case stemming from a messy divorce and some vetting that went on for a possible administration job.
And then there were a slew of pardons for shady businessmen who were rightfully convicted for shady dealings, including California businessman Elliott Broidy, a Trump fundraiser who pleaded guilty in a foreign lobbying case; and Florida eye doctor Dr. Salomon E. Melgen who was convicted in 2018 of fraudulently billing Medicare and performing unnecessary procedures on hundreds of elderly patients.
Trump declined to issue preemptive pardons for himself or his children, something that he had reportedly been considering for weeks — but something which would have meant some admission of guilt.
Top Image: Levandowski at a September 2019 court appearance in San Francisco Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images