Ex-Google engineer who allegedly stole trade secrets still free

Former Google and Uber autonomous vehicle expert Anthony Levandowski
Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski remains free on $2 million bail after a U.S. district judge denied a recommendation to raise bail to $10 million, on fears he would leave the U.S. to escape trial for allegedly stealing trade secrets. (Associated Press)

The plot thickens surrounding Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer accused of stealing self-driving car technology secrets before joining Uber’s effort to build robotic taxis.

According to an AP report Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nathanael Cousins has rejected a government recommendation that the bail posted by Levandowski be raised to $10 million. He remains free on the $2 million bail he posted last week after being accused of stealing autonomous vehicle technology from Google before leaving to join Uber in 2016.

The government reportedly says it believes the wealth Levandowski accumulated as a former key Google engineer, as well as his dual French citizenship, left open the possibility he would flee the U.S. before trial. Documents submitted to Judge Cousins pegged his net worth at $72 million, according to AP.

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Levandowski launched an autonomous vehicle startup company, called Otto, before leaving Google and eventually sold the company to Uber for $680 million, said the AP report. Levandowski then became head of  Uber’s self-driving car division, but was fired in 2017 after Waymo, the autonomous vehicle technology company spun off from Google, filed a lawsuit accusing him of stealing key technology.

Uber denied that it ever used any of Google’s trade secrets, but agreed to pay Waymo $245 million last year to settle the case, says the AP report. The case generated enough evidence to prompt the presiding judge to recommend that the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco open a criminal investigation, which eventually resulted in charging Levandowski with 33 counts of theft. This could lead to 10 years in prison and more than $8 million in fines, the report said.

According to AP, the criminal case is now being transferred to U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who oversaw the civil lawsuit and made the criminal referral.

Levandowski has denied the charges against him and has promised to show up for all court dates. In Wednesday’s hearing, Ismail Ramsey, one of Levandowski’s attorneys, accused the government of grandstanding, in an attempt to depict Levandowski as a flight risk.

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