The Mascheronis were indicted in September 2010, and charged with conspiracy to communicate and communicating restricted data to an individual with the intent to secure an advantage to a foreign nation.
The indictment also charged the couple with conspiracy to convey and conveying classified restricted data. Leonardo Mascheroni was also charged with concealing and retaining U.S. records with the intent to convert them to his own use and gain, and both defendants with making false statements.
According to federal authorities, Leonardo Mascheroni told an FBI officer masquerading as a Venezuelan agent that he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb in 10 years and 40 missiles with nuclear warheads in 20 years, the federal government maintains.
And Mascheroni had other plans for Hugo Chavez’s government, court documents alleged in 2010. He suggested an explosion over New York that could produce an “electromagnetic pulse” to knock out the metropolis’ electrical power and a laser that could blind satellites; in Venezuela, a secret underground reactor for enriching uranium below an open, above-ground nuclear power plant, along with an underground facility for undetectable tests of “microbombs”; and making Venezuela Latin America’s defense “umbrella” able to retaliate against attacks with nuclear bombs.
The man whom Mascheroni believed was his Venezuelan contact — “Luis Jimenez” — turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, the Mascheroni indictment said. The two met twice at a Santa Fe hotel and a third time at “Hyatt Regency resort in New Mexico,” possibly Santa Ana Pueblo’s hotel resort near Rio Rancho.
During the investigation, Mascheroni also made “dead drops” of information at an Albuquerque post office box and received $20,000 in return. He wanted $793,000 for his services, according to the indictments.
Nothing in the court documents ever tied the Venezuelan government to any nuclear espionage scheme. In a news release in 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the indictments didn’t allege that the Venezuelan government “or anyone acting on its behalf sought or passed any classified information, nor does it charge any Venezuelan government officials or anyone acting on their behalf with wrongdoing.”
Mascheroni, a native of Argentina and naturalized U.S. citizen, worked for LANL from 1979-88 with a “Q” security clearance providing access to classified information. He attracted national attention with charges that he was dismissed on trumpedup security risk charges and because of differences on how to advance laser fusion, which tries to harness nuclear energy similar to that of the sun and hydrogen bombs. The lab says he was laid off in a reduction of force.
In recent years, he’d gone to Congress to question management of the nation’s nuclear weapons labs and argue that his laser would help weapons reliability.
He said in October 2009, after a federal raid at his Los Alamos home, that when his appeals to Congress went unheeded, he reached out to other countries, leading to his supposed contact with Venezuela. He said his actions were meant to move “toward a world without nuclear weapons” and “to seduce other countries into going without nuclear weapons.”
Here is the press release issued late today by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Albuquerque:
The Justice Department today announced that a scientist and his wife, who both previously worked as contractors at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico, have pleaded guilty to charges under the Atomic Energy Act and other charges relating to their communication of classified nuclear weapons data to a person they believed to be a Venezuelan government official.
The guilty pleas, which were entered today by Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, 77, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina, and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, 70, a U.S. citizen, in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, were announced by John Carlin, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security; Kenneth J. Gonzales, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico and Carol K.O. Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Albuquerque Division.
According to court filings, Mascheroni, a Ph.D. physicist, worked as a scientist at LANL from 1979 to 1988 and held a security clearance that allowed him access to certain classified information, including “Restricted Data.” Roxby Mascheroni worked at LANL between 1981 and 2010, where her duties included technical writing and editing. She also held a security clearance at LANL that allowed her access to certain classified information, including “Restricted Data.” As defined under the Atomic Energy Act, “Restricted Data” is classified information concerning the design, manufacture or use of atomic weapons; the production of special nuclear material; or the use of special nuclear material in the production of energy.
Mascheroni and Roxby Mascheroni were indicted in Sept. 2010, and charged with conspiracy to communicate and communicating Restricted Data to an individual with the intent to secure an advantage to a foreign nation. The indictment also charged the couple with conspiracy to convey and conveying classified Restricted Data. The indictment also charged Mascheroni with concealing and retaining U.S. records with the intent to convert them to his own use and gain, and both defendants with making false statements.
Today, Mascheroni pleaded guilty to Counts 7 and 8 of the indictment, charging him with conversion of government property, and Counts 10 through 15, charging him with making false statements. Mascheroni also pleaded guilty to an information charging him with two counts of communication of Restricted Data and one count of retention of national defense information. Mascheroni admitted that in Nov. 2008 and July 2009, he unlawfully communicated Restricted Data to another individual with reason to believe that the data would be utilized to secure an advantage to Venezuela. He also admitted unlawfully converting Department of Energy information to his own use and selling the information in Nov. 2008 and July 2009, and failing to deliver classified information relating to the United States’ national defense to appropriate authorities and instead unlawfully retaining the information in his home. Finally, Mascheroni admitted making materially false statements to the FBI when he was interviewed in Oct. 2009.
Roxby Mascheroni pleaded guilty to Count 6 of the indictment, charging her with conspiracy, and Counts 16 through 22, charging her with making false statements. She also pleaded guilty to an information charging her with conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data. In entering her guilty plea, Roxby Mascheroni admitted that between Oct. 2007 and Oct. 2009, she conspired with Mascheroni to convey Restricted Data belonging to the United States to another person with reason to believe that the information would be used to secure an advantage to Venezuela. She also admitted making materially false statements to the FBI when she was interviewed in Oct. 2009.
Under the terms of the plea agreements, which are subject to court approval, Mascheroni will be sentenced to a prison term within the range of 24 to 66 months followed by ten years of supervised release, and Roxby Mascheroni will be sentenced to a prison term of 12 to 24 months followed by nine years of supervised release. The couple’s sentencing hearings have yet to be scheduled.
The indictment in this case did not allege that the government of Venezuela or anyone acting on its behalf sought or was passed any classified information, nor did it charge any Venezuelan government officials or anyone acting on their behalf with wrongdoing. The indictment also did not allege any wrongdoing by other individuals working at LANL.
This investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Albuquerque Division with assistance from the Department of Energy and LANL. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Fred J. Federici, Dean Tuckman and Holland S. Kastrin of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico, and Trial Attorneys Kathleen Kedian and David Recker of the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.