A former Apple employee pleaded guilty Monday to stealing trade secrets from the tech firm.
The material stolen by Xiaolang Zhang was related to the work of Apple in its first cara project that has been in and out of headlines for years, though never officially confirmed by the company.
Zhang admitted the charge in a court in San Jose, California, on Monday, and for his crime he faces up to 10 years in prison and fines totaling up to $250,000, according to CNBC.
The history of Zhang’s involvement with Apple goes back years. He was first hired by the tech giant in late 2015 to work on Apple’s car project, known as Project Titan, as part of a software and hardware teaming for the autonomous vehicle.
Three years after joining, US permanent resident Zhang left Apple for XMotors, a Silicon Valley-based Chinese startup focused on creating self-driving car technology.
Around the time of his departure from Apple, the company reportedly noticed Zhang behaving in an unusual manner, conduct that prompted it to launch an internal investigation into his former employee to see if anything was amiss. After examining Zhang’s MacBook and work-issued iPhones that she was asked to turn in, the investigative team came to the belief that Zhang had likely walked away with sensitive data linked to Project Titan.
The former Apple employee was accused of downloading a series of materials that included a 25-page document containing engineering schematics for a circuit board for a self-driving vehicle and data linked to prototypes of the Apple car.
Zhang was finally arrested in July 2018 when federal agents charged him with theft of trade secrets belonging to Apple. After pleading not guilty in 2018, Zhang changed course this week and admitted the charge as part of a plea deal that is currently under seal.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on November 14.
Although it is a serious crime, corrupt employees passing on trade secrets is nothing new. However, Apple’s high profile, famously secretive nature, and continued reluctance to officially confirm the existence of arguably its most ambitious project to date, made the story of Zhang’s unscrupulous actions all the more intriguing. doubt has prompted Apple to review its processes in an attempt to prevent similar crimes from occurring in the future.