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A former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist and his wife were indicted Friday on charges of providing classified nuclear weapons information to a Venezuelan government official.
The pair, Pedro Mascheroni, 75, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina, and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, 67, a U.S. citizen was also charged with conspiring to participate in the development of an atomic weapon for Venezuela.
Friday's 22-count indictment was returned by a federal grand jury in the District of New Mexico.
The couple was arrested by FBI agents and made their initial appearance in federal court in Albuquerque.
If convicted of all the charges, the defendants face a potential sentence of life in prison.
The indictment does 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 does not charge individuals working at LANL with wrongdoing, according to a press release from the Department of Justice.
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 to 1988 and held a security clearance that allowed him access to certain classified information, including “Restricted Data.”
His wife 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.”
“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.
The indictment also charges Mascheroni with concealing and retaining U.S. records with the intent to convert them to his own use and gain, as well as six counts of making false statements.
Roxby Mascheroni is also charged with seven counts of making false statements.
“Our laws are designed to prevent ‘Restricted Data’ from falling into the wrong hands because of the potential harm to our national security," officials said. "Employees at the Los Alamos National Laboratory who have access to ‘Restricted Data’ are charged with safeguarding that sensitive information, even after they leave the lab."
According to the indictment, Mascheroni had conversations in March 2008 with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Venezuelan government official. During these conversations, Mascheroni discussed his program for developing nuclear weapons for Venezuela.
Among other things, Mascheroni allegedly said he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years and that, under his program, Venezuela would use a secret, underground nuclear reactor to produce and enrich plutonium, and an open, above-ground reactor to produce nuclear energy.
During these talks, Mascheroni allegedly asked about obtaining Venezuelan citizenship and described how he expected to be paid for his classified nuclear work for Venezuela.
He also told the undercover agent he should be addressed as “Luke,” and that he would set up an e-mail account solely to communicate with the undercover agent. Mascheroni later used this account to communicate with the agent and to arrange for deliveries of materials at a “dead drop” location, which was a post office box.
In July 2008, the undercover agent provided Mascheroni with a list of 12 questions purportedly from Venezuelan military and scientific personnel. In response, Mascheroni delivered to the dead drop location in November 2008 a disk with a coded 132-page document on it that allegedly contained “Restricted Data” related to nuclear weapons. Written by Mascheroni and edited by his wife, the document was entitled “A Deterrence Program for Venezuela” and laid out Mascheroni’s nuclear weapons development program for Venezuela.
Mascheroni stated that the information he was providing was worth millions of dollars, and his fee for producing the document was $793,000, the indictment alleges.
In June 2009, Mascheroni received from the dead drop location another list of questions, purportedly from Venezuelan officials, and $20,000 in cash from the undercover agent as a first payment. On his way to pick up these materials, he allegedly told his wife he was doing this work for the money and was not an American any more.
In July 2009, Mascheroni delivered to the dead drop location a disk that contained a 39- page document with answers to the questions.
According to the indictment, the document was written by Mascheroni, edited by his wife, and contained “Restricted Data” related to nuclear weapons. In the document, Mascheroni allegedly reiterated that the information he had provided was classified and was based on his knowledge of U.S. nuclear tests that he had learned while working at LANL, but that he would state the document was based on open information found on the Internet if “our relationship/alliance does not work...”
In August 2009, the indictment alleges, and his wife met with the undercover agent at a hotel, where Mascheroni further discussed his nuclear weapons development program for Venezuela.
Several months later, FBI agents questioned Mascheroni and his wife about the classified information Mascheroni had provided to the undercover agent, among other things.
Both made a series of false statements in response, the indictment alleges.