Associated Press – 2013-06-25 01:21:31
NM Physicist, Wife Plead Guilty in Nuke Case
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (June 21, 2013) â€” A former Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear physicist and his wife pleaded guilty Friday to charges that included communicating classified nuclear weapons data, federal prosecutors said.
Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, 77, and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, 70, entered their pleas in US District Court in Albuquerque. The couple had initially pleaded not guilty in 2010 after they were indicted on charges of violating the Atomic Energy Act.
The two were accused of offering to help develop a nuclear weapon for Venezuela through dealings with an undercover FBI agent who was posing as a representative of the Venezuelan government.
Prosecutors said the Mascheronis held security clearances that allowed them access to classified data while they were employed by the northern New Mexico lab. That data included information on the design, manufacture or use of atomic weapons, and the use of nuclear material in the production of energy.
The US government did not allege that Venezuela or anyone working for it sought US secrets.
Under the plea agreement, Pedro Mascheroni faces up to 5 1/2 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release. His wife could be sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison and nine years of supervised release.
The court still has to approve the agreements, and sentencing hearings for the couple have yet to be scheduled.
Pedro Mascheroni, a naturalized US citizen from Argentina, worked in the nuclear weapons design division at Los Alamos from 1979 until he was laid off in 1988. His wife, a technical writer, worked there between 1981 and 2010.
Pedro Mascheroni was under investigation for about a year before he and his wife were indicted. In October 2009, the FBI seized computers, letters, photographs, books and cellphones from the couple’s Los Alamos home. In an interview with The Associated Press at the time, he said he believed the US government was wrongly targeting him as a spy, and he denied that accusation.
He said in the interview that he approached Venezuela after the United States rejected his theories that a hydrogen-fluoride laser could produce nuclear energy.
According to prosecutors, Pedro Mascheroni delivered to a post office box in November 2008 a disk with a coded 132-page document on it that contained “restricted data” related to nuclear weapons. Written by Pedro Mascheroni and edited by his wife, the document was titled “A Deterrence Program for Venezuela” and laid out his nuclear weapons development program for the South American nation.
Pedro Mascheroni stated the information he was providing was worth millions of dollars, and that his fee for producing the document was $793,000.
He later provided more information and received cash from the agent.
At the start of the investigation, some scientists familiar with Pedro Mascheroni’s work had argued that there was nothing classified or secret about the information.
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