NEW YORK (CNN) — Anthony Levandowski, a former Uber exec who oversaw its self-driving efforts, was charged by federal prosecutors on Tuesday with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from his former employer, Google.
He self-surrendered to law enforcement following the indictment, according to a law enforcement official.
Levandowski, a star tech executive, was at the center of a high-profile lawsuit filed by Google against Uber in 2017. Google accused Levandowski, one of the founding members of its self-driving car project, of downloading thousands of confidential files to a personal hard drive before resigning from the company.
Levandowski left Google in January 2016 and launched Otto, an autonomous trucking startup. Otto was acquired by Uber later that year.
Prior to his departure from Google, according to the indictment, Levandowski downloaded 14,000 files containing “critical engineering information” about the company’s self-driving vehicles.
“All of us have the right to change jobs,” United States Attorney David L. Anderson said in a press release announcing the indictment. “None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation.”
In a statement, Levandowski’s lawyers said the “downloads at issue” took place when he was still employed at Google and “authorized to use the information.” The counsel added: “None of these supposedly secret files ever went to Uber or to any other company.”
“Anthony is innocent, and we look forward to proving it at trial,” the lawyers said.
Uber fired Levandowski in May 2017 after he failed to meet a deadline to comply with an internal investigation into the allegations raised by the Google lawsuit. Uber and Waymo, Google’s self-driving unit, settled the lawsuit the following year.
A spokesperson for Uber told CNN Business the company is cooperating with the government on its investigation. Waymo praised the efforts of federal prosecutors on the case. “We have always believed competition should be fueled by innovation,” Waymo’s team said in a statement.
If convicted, Levandowski faces a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, plus restitution for each violation.
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