Ex-Uber Engineer Accused of Spying on Tesla, Stealing Trade Secrets

Enterprise


The engineer at the heart of the upcoming Waymo vs Uber trial is facing dramatic new allegations of commercial wrongdoing, this time from a former nanny.

Erika Wong, who says she cared for Anthony Levandowski’s two children from December 2016 to June 2017, filed a lawsuit in California this month accusing him of breaking a long list of employment laws. The complaint alleges the failure to pay wages, labor and health code violations, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other things.

Yet in this unusual 81-page complaint, Wong also claims knowledge of a large swath of Levandowski’s personal and business dealings. She does so in great detail, including dozens of overheard names, the license-plate numbers of cars she observed at a Levandowski property, and an extensive list of the BDSM gear she claims he kept in his bedroom.

Though the lawsuit contains some obvious inaccuracies—such as stating that Levandowski is a resident of Oakland County, California, which does not exist—Wong’s claims raise new questions about Levandowski’s business conduct. In her complaint, Wong alleges that Levandowski was paying a Tesla engineer for updates on its electric truck program, selling microchips abroad, and creating new startups using stolen trade secrets. Her complaint also describes Levandowski reacting to the arrival of the Waymo lawsuit against Uber, strategizing with then-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, and discussing fleeing to Canada to escape prosecution.

Levandowski’s outside dealings while employed at Google and Uber have been central themes in Waymo’s trade secrets case. Waymo says that Levandowski took 14,000 technical files related to laser-ranging lidar and other self-driving technologies with him when he left Google to work at Uber. He is not a party to the original Waymo complaint against Uber, however, and no criminal charges have yet been filed against him. Levandowski has consistently exercised his Fifth Amendment rights and not responded to allegations in that suit.

A statement on the Wong lawsuit from Levandowski’s spokesperson is unequivocal: “On January 5, a frivolous lawsuit was filed against Anthony Levandowski in US District Court. The allegations in the lawsuit are a work of fiction. Levandowski is confident that the lawsuit will be dismissed by the courts.” Little is known about Wong, who did not respond to a request for an interview. She says in the complaint that a medical background earned her a higher-than-average salary for a nanny; that she had taken law classes; and that she had produced a short film on Sebastian Thrun, who led the early development of Google’s self-driving car.

In the complaint, Wong describes a scene from Feb. 23 of last year, the day Waymo filed its lawsuit against Uber. When Wong arrived for work that evening, she says she saw Levandowski walking in circles in the living room, sweating profusely and talking to his lawyer, Miles Ehrlich, on the phone.

According to court records, Wong recalls Levandowski screaming, “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! How could they do this to me? Miles, what about the clause, you … said this would work! What do I do with the discs? What do the contracts say? It’s all mine, the money, the deals, it’s all mine. What about ‘the shit?’ These are all my fucking deals!”

On March 11, a day after Waymo filed a motion for an injunction against Uber, Wong describes Levandowski texting her to say he was bringing his boss home with him. Half an hour later, she says, Kalanick and Levandowski arrived, bringing with them a white bucket containing circuit boards and lenses, as well as legal documents for Levandowski to sign. She writes that Kalanick spent about five hours at Levandowski’s home.

A week later, Wong recalls Levandowski saying to his stepmother, Suzanna Musick, “Make sure Pat Green gets paid.” (Musick has deep connections with Levandowski’s companies. Google’s first self-driving Prius was still registered in her name long after 510 Systems, the startup that built it, was sold to the tech giant.)

Wong had heard the same name in conversations between Levandowski and Randy Miller, his college friend and business partner on multiple construction deals. On April 6, according to the complaint, Green’s name came up again in discussions with Miller, this time connected to updates from Tesla’s electric trucking division. Wong’s complaint says that on April 27 she overheard Levandowski and his brother Mike talking about how Levandowski might drive up to Alberta, Canada, to avoid prison. She recalls Levandowski telling his brother, “Just arrange with Suzanna, dad, and Hazlett [another relative] to keep working with Pat Green. I need updates on Tesla trucking, the non-lidar technology is crucial and Nvidia chips. We can make money on both.”

During May and June, the suit states, Wong remembers Levandowski calling his sister frequently and asking, “Did you get any packages from Google or Pat Green?”

There is a senior manufacturing equipment engineer called Patrick Green working at Tesla on new products, according to a profile on LinkedIn, but neither Green nor Tesla responded to requests for comment and no other public evidence appears to link this person to Levandowski. Tesla has long been working on an electric self-driving truck, which was finally unveiled in November as the Semi. Levandowski has an investment in autonomous trucking as the majority shareholder in Otto Trucking, a self-driving truck startup originally named as a co-defendant in the Waymo case. Otto Trucking owns self-driving trucks based at Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco.

According to Wong’s complaint, at the same meeting Levandowski also asked his brother Mike to keep “paying off Haslim and others.” This likely refers to James Haslim, the lidar engineer who was hired by Levandowski to work at his startup Tyto Lidar. Tyto was acquired by Otto and, in turn, by Uber, where Haslim still works. Uber declined to comment on the allegation and did not make Haslim available for an interview.

This complaint makes clear that Wong also thinks Levandowski is selling trade secrets, lidar technology, and processors to customers abroad. She recalls a conversation on June 3 in which she says he told her, “I don’t plan on going to prison, the money is in the chip sales.” On another phone call a few weeks later, according to court records, she heard him say, “I’m rich as fuck. Boom-mother fucker! Fuck Travis! Fuck Uber! I’m taking the world over with all these deals, microchips sales all over the world.”

The document also details Wong’s belief that Levandowski had a hand in forming several startups not publicly linked to him. For example, the complaint describes Wong overhearing a conversation between Levandowski and his business partners about ex-Google engineer Bryan Salesky’s autonomous vehicle startup Argo.AI. She then suggested in the complaint that Levandowski might have had a role in creating the company while at Uber. Yet Google founder Larry Page has spoken of tension between Levandowski and Salesky at Google. Argo.AI tells WIRED that Levandowski was not involved in the formation of the company in any way.

Wong also suggests in the complaint that Levandowski helped create JingChi Corporation, an autonomous technology startup founded by Qing Lu, a former executive at lidar company Velodyne, in March 2017. The complaint cites as evidence a few meetings between Levandowski and Michael Jellen, Velodyne’s president. When contacted, Qing Lu and Velodyne also denied Wong’s conclusions. WIRED could find no public evidence linking Levandowski to either Argo.AI or JingChi.

Wong is seeking damages of over $6 million. Levandowski has been served with a summons, and an initial case management conference is scheduled for early April. If Levandowski was expecting his legal woes to end with the Waymo case next month, he may have to buckle up for a longer ride.



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