A former Apple engineer stole secrets about the company’s self-driving car project. Xiaolang Zhang was arrested at a San Jose airport on Saturday, and he now faces a decade behind bars and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
Zhang, who left his position as an Apple (AAPL, -1.18%) hardware engineer in May, was about to fly to China to go work for a new employer, Xiaopeng Motors or XMotors, which is making connected, electric cars.
According to prosecutors, Zhang admitted downloading files relating to Apple’s Project Titan scheme, which has not been terribly successful—so far, it has resulted in little more than a plan to make smart Apple campus shuttles based on Volkswagen models—and putting them on his wife’s laptop.
Zhang apparently took paternity leave in April. When he returned, the engineer told Apple that he would be moving to China to work for XMotors, which also has a Mountain View office, and to be with his sick mother.
Apple’s security team reviewed Zhang’s work devices when he turned them in, and found a lot more download activity and confidential information than should have been on there. Security footage showed the engineer had returned to Apple’s offices during his paternity leave and taken things from the labs.
“Apple takes confidentiality and the protection of our intellectual property very seriously,” Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr told Bloomberg. “We’re working with authorities on this matter and will do everything possible to make sure this individual and any other individuals involved are held accountable for their actions.”