Xiaolang Zhang, a former Apple employee who was accused of stealing computer files with trade secrets about Apple’s secretive car division, pleaded guilty in federal court in San Jose on Monday.
Zhang’s plea agreement with the U.S. government is under seal, according to court filings on Monday. Zhang faces as much as 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine after pleading guilty to a felony charge of theft of trade secrets. Sentencing is scheduled for November.
Zhang was accused of downloading internal Apple files about the company’s car project — specifically, a 25-page document including engineering schematics of a circuit board for an autonomous vehicle. Zhang was also accused of taking reference manuals and PDFs describing Apple’s prototypes and prototype requirements.
Zhang was arrested by federal agents in July 2018 at the San Jose airport, where he planned to fly to China. He had previously worked for Apple since 2015, most recently as a hardware engineer on Apple’s autonomous vehicle team, according to charging documents from the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office.
The charges gave a peek into a secretive side of Apple that the company even years later still doesn’t often acknowledge: its division developing autonomous electric vehicles.
Apple uses internal software to track which employees are disclosed on which projects, and are required to attend in-person secrecy training, according to the complaint. Zhang worked on the autonomous car project’s Compute Team, which designed and tested circuit boards for sensors.
From The Shadows Emerges Knowledge