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.