Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

Market Insanity

Uber Threatening to fire Otto Founder

Uber is threatening to fire one of Otto’s founders less than a year after it reportedly paid $680 million for the self-driving truck company.

Uber’s lawyers sent Anthony Levandowski a letter threatening termination, Business Insider reported. The attorneys want Levandowski fired because he’s refusing to let private investigators search devices; probably flash drives that might contain 14,000 files allegedly stolen from Alphabet’s (NASDAQ: GOOGL) autonomous vehicle company Waymo.

It is easy to see why Levandowski is refusing the search. If investigators turn up evidence verifying Alphabet’s allegations, he might face criminal prosecution and possibly prison time.

“We understand that this letter requires you to turn over information wherever located, including but not limited to, your personal devices, and to waive any Fifth Amendment protection you may have,” Uber general counsel Salle Yoo wrote to Levandowski on May 15. The Fifth Amendment bans self-incrimination.

Is the FBI Investigating Uber?

Not surprisingly Levandowski’s lawyers have said no to the request, but there’s another fishing expedition they would not be able to stop; a federal search warrant in the hands of an FBI agent.

U.S. District Judge William Alsup asked the US Attorney to investigate Uber and determine if it had violated federal law, Business Insider reported. That means an FBI investigation; and the potential of racketeering or conspiracy charges, that might land Levandowski and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in federal prison.

Alsup made the request because it sounds as if Levandowski committed theft; and Uber bought stolen property, which is also a crime. Since a number of people were involved the theft can be construed as racketeering; or conspiracy, under federal law. If the FBI and the US attorney can prove Kalanick paid Levandowski $680 million for the stolen files both men might end up in prison.

Is it the End of the Road for Uber?

A nightmare for Kalanick and company would be Levandowski making a deal to testify against them in exchange for a lighter sentence. Since the FBI rarely discloses the details of investigations before charges are filed it is hard to know if it is involved.

That means Uber’s tactic of trying to blame Levandowski for the dispute with Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG) might backfire. It might lead to serious criminal charges against Kalanick and company.

Such a criminal investigation would be the end of Uber and its’ supposedly $70 billion dollar valuation. No investment banker is going to touch a unicorn that has executives under indictment by the U.S. Attorney and the media circus of a federal trial going on.

The Levandowski affair might be the end of the road for Uber and Travis Kalanick’s “business career.”