Former Google engineer Anthony Levandowski, who quit the tech giant before merging his own startup with Uber, has been charged with stealing Google's self-driving car trade secrets, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.
Levandowski, 39, who served as the head of Uber's self-driving project, had been named in a 2017 lawsuit brought against Uber by Waymo, Google's former self-driving car unit, claiming that the popular ride-sharing app stole trade secrets from Google. That suit ended in a settlement of $245 million.
At the time, federal judge William Alsup, who was overseeing the case, recommended criminal charges against Levandowski.
Levandowski faces 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets. Each count carries a potential penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to an indictment unsealed Monday by the U.S. Attorney's office for the Northern District of California.
"All of us have the right to change jobs," U.S. Attorney David L. Anderson said in a statement Tuesday. "None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door. Theft is not innovation."
The indictment makes similar allegations to the earlier civil suit against Uber; namely that Levandowski, who at the time was the lead of Google's Light Detecting and Ranging (LiDAR) engineering team, stole 14,000 confidential files about Waymo’s self-driving technology before he quit the company in 2016.
Levandowski turned himself in Tuesday. Attorney Miles Ehrlich told The Associated Press, "He didn't steal anything, from anyone. This case rehashes claims already discredited in a civil case that settled more than a year [ago]."
The indictment alleges that in the months prior to his resignation, Levandowski downloaded "from secure Google repositories numerous engineering, manufacturing, and business files related to Google's custom LiDAR and self driving car technology. The files downloaded included circuit board schematics, instructions for installing and testing LiDAR, and an internal tracking document."
Federal prosecutors said Levandowski worked with two would-be competitors of Waymo, Tyto LiDAR LLC and 280 Systems Inc.
The latter, a self-driving truck startup founded by Levandowski and another former Google employee after they resigned, was renamed Ottomotto and acquired Tyto LiDAR LLC in May 2016. Shortly after, Uber acquired Ottomotto for $680 million and hired Levandowski. He was fired a year later after Uber was slapped with a civil suit from Waymo, although Uber denied knowing anything about the alleged stolen documents.
In a separate case following the civil suit against Uber, Levandowski was forced to pay Google $127 million in arbitration proceedings, according to a disclosure made by Uber leading up to its IPO, the AP reported.
Although Google and Uber both have participated in the investigation, prosecutors have not yet announced whether Uber and its former CEO, Travis Kalanick, will face criminal charges.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.