Anthony Levandowski in a publicity photo from Pronto, the auutonomous tech company he founded in...

Anthony Levandowski in a publicity photo from Pronto, the auutonomous tech company he founded in 2018.

Photo: File, courtesy Pronto

The self-driving truck entrepreneur who committed what one judge called the "biggest trade secret crime I have ever seen” will avoid his 18-month prison sentence thanks to a last-minute pardon from President Trump.

Among the 73 pardons issued by President Trump on his last night in the White House was for Anthony Levandowski, who was sentenced last August to 18 months in prison for stealing trade secrets related to autonomous vehicles.

The White House said the pardon was supported by billionaire tech investor and onetime Trump donor Peter Thiel, among others, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Levandowski gained visibility in trucking after he co-founded a self-driving truck enterprise called Otto after leaving his job in Google's Waymo autonomous vehicle program. But Waymo accused him of transferring more than 14,000 Google files to his personal laptop before leaving the company. Those documents included development schedules and product designs for its autonomous vehicle program. And within months, Uber had purchased Otto, leading Waymo to sue Uber, alleging the competitor had done so in order to get its hands on that confidential information.

In March 2020, Levandowski pleaded guilty to stealing a confidential Google document shortly before leaving the company. In the agreement, Levandowski agreed to a maximum fine of $250,000 and a maximum prison term of 10 years.

Prosecutors sought a 27-month sentence. Levandowski and his attorneys had argued for 12 months of home confinement, saying that a prison term would be a “death sentence” given the COVID-19 pandemic and his prior history of respiratory illness. The judge said home confinement would be “a green light to every future brilliant engineer to steal trade secrets. Prison time is the answer to that.”

However, the judge did rule that Levandowski could wait to begin his sentence until after the Covid-19 pandemic had peaked. Now that sentence will not happen at all.

In 2018, Levandowski founded a new autonomous tech company, Pronto, but stepped down as CEO a year later after being charged with theft of trade secrets.

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