ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. --
The Justice Department on Friday announced that a scientist and his wife, who both previously worked as contractors at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, have been indicted on charges of communicating classified nuclear weapons data to a person they believed to be a Venezuelan government official and conspiring to participate in the development of an atomic weapon for Venezuela, among other violations.
The indictments are against 75-year-old Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina, and 67-year-old Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, a U.S. citizen.
The 22-count indictment, which was returned Thursday by a New Mexico federal grand jury, was announced by Assistant Attorney General for National Security David Kris; U.S. Attorney for New Mexico Kenneth J. Gonzales; and Carol K.O. Lee, special agent in charge of the FBI's Albuquerque Division.
The couple was arrested by FBI agents Friday morning and have made their initial appearance in federal court in Albuquerque.
The couple is accused of giving classified information, including restricted data, to a person they believed to be a Venezuelan government official and of conspiring to participate in the development of an atomic weapon. The indictment further charges Mascheroni with concealing and retaining U.S. records with the intent to convert them for 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.
The U.S. attorney's office said the indictment does not allege that the Venezuelan government 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. U.S. Attorney's Office officials said the indictment also does not charge any individuals currently working at LANL.
According to documents released by the U.S. Attorney's office, Mascheroni, a Ph.D. physicist, worked as a scientist at the lab 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 that allowed her access to restricted data.
Officials said that under the Atomic Energy Act, restricted data is defined as 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.
According to the indictment, Mascheroni had a series of 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. The indictement alleges that among other things, Mascheroni 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, the indictment alleges that Mascheroni 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 contained restricted data related to nuclear weapons, according to the indictment. 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, the indictment states. 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 anymore, the indictment states.
According to the indictment, in July 2009, Mascheroni delivered to the dead drop location a disk that contained a 39-page document with answers to the second set of questions. This document also was written by Mascheroni, edited by his wife, and contained restricted data related to nuclear weapons. In the document, Mascheroni 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 ," the indictment states.
According to the indictment, Mascheroni and his wife met with the undercover agent at a hotel in August 2009, 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.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI's Albuquerque division with assistance from the Department of Energy and LANL.
"Our laws are designed to prevent restricted data from falling into the wrong hands because of the potential harm to our national security," said New Mexico U.S. Attorney Gonzales. "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. This is absolutely necessary for our national security, and it is what the public expects.
"Consistent with its responsibility to protect our national interests, LANL has cooperated fully in the investigation leading to the indictment of Dr. Mascheroni and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni."
If convicted of all the charges in the indictment, the defendants face a potential sentence of life in prison.
Copyright 2010 by KOAT.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.