On March 19, 2020, Anthony Levandowski, a pioneer of self-driving car technology, announced that he worked out a plea deal with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to one count of trade secret theft under the Economic Espionage Act. His trial was set for January 2021. Levandowski also recently filed for bankruptcy protection citing a $179 million state judgement in favor of Google that affirmed an arbitration award against him. On August 26, 2019, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California (USAO) charged, Levandowski, with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google. According to the indictment, Levandowski downloaded more than 14,000 files containing critical information about Google’s autonomous-vehicle research before leaving the company in 2016. Levandowski joined Uber in 2016 after leaving Google when Uber bought his new self-driving trucking start-up, “Otto.” Levandowski repeatedly asserted that he never disclosed the download, nor made use of the information while he was at Uber.
Judge Alsup will sentence Levandowski under the United States Sentencing Guidelines
which were created by Congress in 1994 in an attempt to ensure uniformity of sentences across the 94 judicial districts. The critical factor in determining a sentence for a violation of the EEA is the amount of loss caused to the victim. Thus, in this case the sentence that Levandowski will be primarily based on the amount of loss suffered by Google caused by Levandowski ‘s theft of its trade secrets. The court is permitted to consider the total amount of loss that was caused by his activities and not just based on the loss directly related to the single court to which Levandowski has agreed to plead guilty. The amount of loss suffered by Google is not clear at this time, however, the range of length of the sentence can vary widely based on the amount of loss. For example, if the Court determines that the amount of loss for the purpose of sentencing is $250 million, the Sentencing Guidelines would call for a sentence of 235-293 months imprisonment. In contrast, assuming that the loss was “only” $25 million, Levandowski still could be facing 97-121 months. While there are other sentencing factors that the Court would consider that could result in either a lengthier or a shorter sentence, or the Court could depart upward or downward from the recommended sentence.