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A defense lawyer says a former Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear physicist who admitted communicating classified nuclear weapons data may try to withdraw his guilty plea.
Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni and his wife, Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, were accused of offering to help develop a nuclear weapon for Venezuela through dealings with an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of the Venezuelan government.
The couple pleaded guilty in June in federal court in Albuquerque, but a Nov. 27 court filing by a federal public defender says Pedro Mascheroni may seek to withdraw his plea.
The filing was made in connection with Mascheroni’s pending request to obtain new court-appointed lawyers.
The public defender, Richard Winterbottom, said it was a “future possibility” that Mascheroni would change his plea but did not elaborate.
In the filing, Winterbottom asked a judge to keep confidential a 35-page letter that Mascheroni had written the judge to express dissatisfaction with his current lawyers and to ask for appointment of new ones.
Release would disclose Mascheroni’s defense strategy, Winterbottom wrote.
Federal prosecutors have yet to respond to Mascheroni’s request that they not be allowed to see his letter.
According to court documents, Winterbottom said Mascheroni’s letter was typed by his daughter. That raised the issue of whether bringing the daughter into the matter “waived any attorney-client privilege with which the letter may be protected” as confidential.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, the daughter is a lawyer but isn’t representing the Mascheronis in this case. Winterbottom wrote that her typing up the Nov. 5 letter as a way for Mascheroni to produce “a legible copy” should not waive attorney-client confidentiality and that the letter has been shared only with Judge Johnson.
Winterbottom, in court documents, said the letter quoted Mascheroni as saying he was not satisfied with his lawyer and he wanted the appointment of another.
The letter detailed Mascheroni’s thoughts on the performance of his lawyers.
“It is the ‘Rosetta Stone’ of both his defense and his possible sentencing defense,” Winterbottom wrote.
Mascheroni is in jail and faces up to 5½ years in prison under terms of his plea arrangement. No date for his sentencing hearing has been set. His wife also has entered guilty pleas and faces a shorter maximum prison term.
The indictment did not allege that the government of Venezuela or anyone acting on its behalf sought or was passed any classified information, nor does it charge any Venezuelan government officials or anyone acting on their behalf with wrongdoing.
The indictment also did not charge individuals working at LANL with wrongdoing, according to a press release from the Department of Justice at the time of the investigation.
“The laboratory has worked cooperatively with federal law enforcement throughout this investigation and will continue to assist as appropriate during the prosecution phase,” said LANL spokesman Kevin Roark. “It would be inappropriate to discuss specific details of the investigation until the completion of judicial proceedings.”
Mascheroni, a Ph.D. physicist, worked as a scientist at LANL from 1979-1988 and held a security clearance that allowed him access to certain classified information, including “Restricted Data.”