SAN JOSE, California – A former Google self-driving car engineer was indicted Tuesday for 33 counts of stealing or attempting to steal the company's technology-related business secrets, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.
The first allegation that Anthony Levandowski stole Google's secret materials in 2015 saved Silicon Valley and led to a civil trial last year.
Levandowski, who is expected to appear in federal court in San Jose on Tuesday, could face a decade in prison if sentenced.
"This morning, we are announcing criminal charges against defendant Anthony Scott Levandowski for trade secret theft," said U.S. Attorney David Anderson at a press conference in San Jose.
The fight began in February 2017, when Waymo publicly stated that former stellar technician Levandowski "downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo's various hardware systems," including a crucial laser-based system known as LiDAR.
In federal charges that were not sealed Tuesday, the government claims that in December 2015, Levandowski took nearly 10 gigabytes of secret data from his employer.
"Silicon Valley is not the Wild West," said John Bennett, a special agent in charge of the FBI's San Francisco office, at the same press conference. "The fast-paced and competitive environment doesn't mean federal laws can be ignored."
Levandowski abruptly left Google in early 2016, and founded the company Otto, which was quickly acquired by Uber for $ 680 million – an astonishing amount for a company just months old.
In 2017, during hearings in the civil trial, Levandowski fought hard to keep silent. He repeatedly called for the Fifth Amendment, protected himself from self-incrimination and threatened to be fired rather than comply with court orders.
According to former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick's deposition in July 2017, Levandowski downloaded the files as an "insurance policy" to protect a $ 120 million bonus from Google. But Kalanick was blunt with the analysis of the then employee's behavior: "It's pretty fucking stupid."
After four days of trial in February 2018, the lawsuit ended in a surprise settlement.
Since being confirmed from Uber in May 2017, Levandowski has further found a related company called Pronto, which he announced in December 2018. Top executives include veterans from Uber, Otto and Google.
Pronto did not immediately respond to NBC News & # 39; s request for comment on how the business will be affected by the CEO's appeal.