Feds seek protective order in Mascheroni case

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By Tim Korte

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have asked a judge to restrict lawyers from releasing sensitive information in the case of a former Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist accused of trying to help Venezuela develop a nuclear weapon.

A motion seeks to require prosecutors and defense lawyers to use materials strictly for litigation as both sides begin sharing evidence.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales said his office filed the request because of the nature of the charges.

"The order I am proposing applies equally to all parties, including the United States, and allows the parties to freely use discovery materials for any legitimate litigation purpose," Gonzales said.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Black made no immediate ruling.

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni and his wife, Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, are 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.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

The U.S. government is not alleging Venezuela or anyone working for that nation sought U.S. secrets.

Defense attorneys had no immediate comment on the government's motion.

Prosecutors asked the judge to require that anything provided to defense attorneys cannot be shown or disclosed to anyone other than the defendants and a limited number of others, including witnesses or experts and their lawyers, and some employees working for defense attorneys.

"The protective order the United States is seeking simply requires each party receiving materials through the discovery process to take minimal, but responsible, steps to help ensure that the materials they receive are used solely for the legitimate purposes of motions, hearings, trial or appeal," the motion says.

Government lawyers argue in their motion, filed last week, that Mascheroni's case "raises some concerns that are not routine." It says even if material is not marked as classified, it may remain sensitive — especially while the litigation is pending.

Prosecutors say they plan to provide defense attorneys with redacted information on the nuclear weapons development program that Mascheroni is alleged to have created for Venezuela, on materials concerning people Mascheroni identified to the undercover agent and on some law enforcement reports.

They also want the judge to require defense attorneys to return all materials when the case ends.

Asked whether the motion could limit the public's right to observe the proceedings, Gonzales said reporters and any other interested parties would have access to anything submitted as trial evidence.

"If and when any of the discovery material is accepted as evidence during court proceedings, that evidence will be available to the public as with any other case," he said.