Former Apple hardware engineer Xiaolang Zhang has admitted to stealing trade secrets pertaining to the company’s autonomous vehicle project.

Even though the Apple Car project is all but gone, the US government is still pursuing legal action against the engineer. As CNBC reports (Opens in a new window) , Zhang was detained by federal investigators in July 2018 as he tried to fly out of San Jose Airport and into China.

He had been employed by Apple since 2015, and part of his time had been spent on the Apple Car team as a hardware engineer. He is also suspected of stealing reference manuals, Apple prototypes/prototype needs contained in PDF documents, a few pieces of hardware, and a 25-page paper with engineering schematics for an autonomous car circuit board.

Zhang’s original request for paternity leave and trip to China aroused Apple’s concern. He quit his job after reporting back to work, citing the need to visit his mother in China. Zhang also disclosed that he would be starting a new position with the Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer Xmotors. In addition to confirming that he had stolen papers, Apple’s following inquiry turned up CCTV evidence of him removing circuit boards and a Linux server from an Apple lab.

Zhang personally entered the guilty plea (Opens in a new window) to a felony theft of trade secret charge Wednesday in federal court in San Jose. Zhang now faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail and a fine of up to $250,000 for the theft, though the terms of the plea agreement with the government are still secret. When the sentence is handed down in November, he will learn his fate.

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