Disgraced Ex-Google Engineer Declares Bankruptcy Over a $179 Million Fine

Anthony Levandowski allegedly used the trade secrets he'd stolen from Google to land a lucrative job at Uber.

Anthony Levandowski was indicted on 33 criminal counts related to the alleged theft from his former employer Google of autonomous drive technology secrets in September 2019. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Anthony Levandowski, a former star engineer at Google (GOOGL) who last year was charged with stealing the tech giant’s self-driving technology secrets—which later helped him land a lucrative job at Uber (UBER), was ordered by a San Francisco county court on Wednesday to pay Google a $179 million fine. He declared bankruptcy immediately, Reuters first reported.

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Last fall, Levandowski was indicted on 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets at Google’s former self-driving unit, Waymo, between late 2015 and early 2016 while serving as the division’s head, shortly before his resignation. The stolen documents included about 14,000 pages of circuit board drawings, design details of Waymo’s Lidar (the navigation system installed on top of an autonomous car) and other files.

SEE ALSO: Google’s Waymo Raises $2.25 Billion From Unexpected Sovereign Investors

In an indictment in September, the U.S. Department of Justice claimed that Levandowski “knowingly stole, and without authorization appropriated, took, carried away, concealed, and by fraud, artifice, and deception obtained trade secrets belonging to Google.”

Levandowski resigned from Google in January 2016 and went on to start his own self-driving truck company, Otto, allegedly with the technology he’d stolen. The startup was acquired by Uber just six months later for $680 million. As part of the acquisition, Levandowski also joined Uber as head of its self-driving unit.

In 2018, Waymo sued Uber for illegally transferring self-driving technology through the Otto acquisition. The case was quickly settled outside court with Uber paying Waymo $245 million in damages. But Levandowski refused to take the deal with Uber’s defense team, which led to a separate criminal investigation into his misconduct.

He was originally expected to face up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $8.25 million, if convicted, based on $250,000 for each of the 33 counts of trade secret theft.

Levandowski filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Wednesday, per Reuters, which would allow him to negotiate debts. Per the bankruptcy filing, he has between $50 million and $100 million in estimated assets and $100 million to $500 million in liabilities.

“This arbitration was not about trade secrets but about employees leaving Google for new opportunities and an engineer being used as a pawn by two tech giants,” Levandowski’s attorney, Neel Chatterjee, said in a statement about Wednesday’s court decision. “Google fought tooth and nail to take back every penny paid to Anthony for his multibillion dollar contributions and now Uber is refusing to indemnify Anthony despite explicitly agreeing to do so.  Anthony had no choice but to file for bankruptcy to protect his rights as he pursues the relief he is legally entitled to.”


Update: This article has been updated with Lewandowski’s attorney’s statement. 

Disgraced Ex-Google Engineer Declares Bankruptcy Over a $179 Million Fine