Former Los Alamos lab physicist's wife sentenced in nuclear secrets case

Aug. 20--MARJORIE ROXBY MASCHERONI, 71 -- wife of a former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist accused of trying to pass restricted nuclear weapons information to Venezuela -- was sentenced today to serve a year and a day in federal prison.

Roxby Macheroni, of Los Alamos and a contract employee at LANL until the charges against her and husband P. Leonardo Macheroni in 2010, had previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate the Atomic Energy Act and making false statements to the FBI.

U.S. District Judge William P. Johnson also sentenced her to three years of supervised release after she gets out of prison. Leonardo Mascheroni, 79, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina who worked at LANL from 1979 through 1988, also entered a guilty plea in June 2013, and is in federal custody pending his own sentencing hearing.

He was accused of providing weapons plans and classified information to an FBI officer masquerading as a Venezuelan agent, and federal authorities say Roxby Mascheroni helped him. The feds say Venezuela played no role in the scheme.

In June 2013, Leonardo Mascheroni, a Ph.D. physicist, pleaded guilty to six counts, including communication of "restricted data" and retention of national defense information, and faces up to 5 1/2 years in prison. He's been behind bars since November, when the judge revoked his conditions of pre-sentencing release.

In court documents, federal authorities have described a bizarre plan by Leonardo Mascheroni to help Venezuela, under former President Hugo Chavez, build missiles and a nuclear bomb, along with a secret underground facility for a nuclear reactor and production of "mini-bombs."

According to indictments of Mascheroni and his wife in 2010, he also suggested an explosion over New York that could produce an "electromagnetic pulse" to knock out the metropolis' electrical power and a laser that could blind satellites; and making Venezuela Latin America's defense "umbrella," able to retaliate against attacks with nuclear bombs. Leonardo Mascheroni recently tried to withdraw his guilty plea, saying his court-appointed lawyers "pressured and coerced" him and offered "false inducements" to get him to plead guilty.

Roxby Mascheroni worked at LANL between 1981 and 2010, where her duties included technical writing and editing. She also held a security clearance.

In entering her guilty plea, Roxby Mascheroni admitted that between October 2007 and October 2009, she conspired with her husband to convey restricted data belonging to the United States to another person with reason to believe that the information would be used to secure an advantage to Venezuela. She also admitted making materially false statements to the FBI when she was interviewed in October 2009.

Roxby' Mascheroni's lawyer, in a pre-sentencing memo to the judge, portrayed her as led astray by a "cruel and abusive husband" with an "arrogant intellect" and "unstable temper."

Many of Roxby Mascheroni's friends and relatives, from Los Alamos and elsewhere, wrote to Johnson, and described her as a generous, loving mother and grandmother ready to accept the consequences for errors she made out of loyalty to her husband.

One letter-writer said Roxby Mascheroni was left alone to raise children and keep house while he "pursued his obsession with obtaining funding for his fusion energy research" rather than finding a job. Another writes that her husband "had her convinced he was a brilliant, underappreciated scientist who needed his research to be recognized -- there are many of these types of husbands in Los Alamos."

Copyright 2014 - Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

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