One of President Trump’s final acts in office is to pardon a former Google engineer who was convicted of stealing trade secrets. Anthony Levandowski worked for Google’s self-driving car division, now called Waymo, before leaving to found Otto, a self-driving truck company that was acquired by Uber. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison in August, with judge William Alsup describing the incident as the “biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen.”
Levandowski was found to have downloaded thousands of files to his laptop before he left Google and entered into sale discussions. Uber ultimately fired him after Google sued, and Levandowski remains in a legal battle with the ride-hailing company, claiming it should be liable for the $179 million he was ordered to pay Google. In a separate suit, Levandowski has argued Uber owes him billions of dollars in lost value from the Otto deal.
Levandowski never began his sentence, as Alsup allowed it to be delayed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a statement from the White House, Levandowski’s pardon was supported by figures from the tech industry including controversial billionaire investor Peter Thiel, fellow Founders Fund partner Trae Stephens, Thiel Capital COO Blake Masters, Hollywood agent and Palantir advisor Michael Ovitz, and Oculus and Anduril founder Palmer Luckey.
Alongside Levandowski, Trump has pardoned 72 other individuals and commuted the prison sentences of 70 more. The list includes rappers Lil Wayne, who pled guilty to a firearms possession charge last year, and Kodak Black, who is currently in prison on weapons charges. Trump also granted a pardon to Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart News boss who served as chief strategist to Trump until his acrimonious departure in 2017.
Update, Jan 20th, 3.45AM: Added Levandowski’s tweet.
Correction: a previous version of this story misidentified a company co-founded by Palmer Luckey. It is Anduril, not Palantir. We regret the error.