Former Google engineer charged with trade secrets theft

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A former high-ranking Google executive is being released from federal custody. Anthony Levandowski was arraigned Tuesday afternoon on charges he stole trade secrets from Google, then abruptly quit and went to work for a company that was purchased by Uber.

Uber was trying to develop similar technology at the time.

For years, Levandowski made a name and a career developing self-driving vehicle technology, earning millions from tech giant Google. 

Now, the tech titan's freedom is on the line, as he's accused of stealing trade secrets.

"The evidence in this case is going to show conclusively that Anthony did not steal anything," said Miles Ehrlich, one of two defense lawyers representing Levandowski.

Tuesday at the federal courthouse in San Jose, prosecutors detailed allegations Levandowski stole 14,000 files related to Google's self-driving car technology. The 39-year-old had worked as an autonomous vehicle engineer for Google, and its subsidiary Waymo, but quit in 2015. 

After quitting he formed his own company, which was purchased by Uber in 2016.

Federal officials charged Levandowski with 33 counts of trade secret theft, for allegedly using the files to help Uber with its own self-driving technology.

"All of us, generally speaking, have a right to change jobs. None of us has the right to fill our pockets on the way out the door," said David Anderson, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California.

The files Levandowski took touched off a civil lawsuit between Uber and Google. That dispute was settled when Uber paid Google $250 million. More than a year later, he's being charged with theft, but neither company is mentioned in the complaint.

"What the federal government is saying by moving forward with this prosecution is this isn't just a civil wrong, it's criminal because it's so blatant. And it affects the ability of companies to automate and be innovative," said Steven Clark, a former prosecutor who now serves as a legal analyst for KTVU.

Levandowski will be back in court on Sept. 4 at 11 a.m. as prosecutors want to make sure he's not trying to hide part of his fortune, estimated at over $100 million.