Mascheroni appeal falls flat

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By Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE (AP) — A former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist convicted of offering to help develop nuclear weapons for Venezuela cannot appeal his five-year sentence because he gave up that right, a federal court said.

In an opinion issued Monday, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals said Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni had no grounds to fighting his sentencing because his plea deal called for no appeals.

Mascheroni, 79, argued in court papers that he had ineffective attorneys and he didn't fully understand his plea agreement. He wanted his sentencing tossed out.

But the court said Mascheroni was well aware of the agreement and a U.S. district judge made sure he understood all that was presented.

"Dr. Mascheroni, who has a Ph.D. and is a former scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear weapons division, signed the plea agreement, which stated that he freely and voluntarily entered his plea and that he had reviewed it with counsel," the federal appeals court wrote.

In January, Mascheroni was sentenced to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty.

Mascheroni and his wife, Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, pleaded guilty in 2013 to offering to help develop a nuclear weapon for Venezuela through dealings with an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of the socialist South American country.

His wife received a year and a day in prison for conspiring with her husband to sell nuclear secrets.

The U.S. government did not allege Venezuela sought U.S. secrets.

Despite the evidence and the plea agreement, federal prosecutor Fred Federici said Mascheroni refused to admit he did anything wrong and has tried to argue that he was the victim of the federal government trying to trap him after being critical of U.S. nuclear policy.

In secret recordings played at his sentencing hearing, Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni tells an agent posing as a Venezuelan official that the bombs would prevent the United States from invading the oil-rich nation and brags to his wife that the passing of secrets would make him wealthy.

He also promised to build 40 nuclear weapons for Venezuela in 10 years and design a bomb targeted for New York City in exchange for "money and power," according to secret FBI recordings.

Mascheroni said his New York bomb wouldn't kill anyone but would disable the city's electrical system and help Venezuela become a nuclear superpower. It's not clear if his New York bombing idea was realistic.