ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist who pleaded guilty to trying to help Venezuela develop a nuclear weapon was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison and three years of supervised release
Pedro Leonardo 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.
Pedro Mascheroni, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina, faced up to 5 1/2 years in prison and 10 years of supervised release at his sentencing before a federal judge in Albuquerque. His wife received a year and a day in prison for conspiring with her husband to sell nuclear secrets.
The U.S. government is not alleging Venezuela sought U.S. secrets.
Before his indictment, Mascheroni was under investigation for about a year. The FBI had seized computers, letters, photographs, books and cellphones from the couple's Los Alamos home.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Mascheroni said he believed the U.S. government was wrongly targeting him as a spy and denied the accusations.
The scientist said he approached Venezuela after the United States rejected his theories that a hydrogen-fluoride laser could produce nuclear energy.
According to a 22-count indictment, Mascheroni told the undercover agent that he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years and that the South American country would use a secret, underground nuclear reactor to produce and enrich plutonium as well as an open, aboveground reactor to produce nuclear energy.
Mascheroni worked in the nuclear weapons design division at the Los Alamos lab from 1979 until he was laid off in 1988. His wife, a technical writer, worked there between 1981 and 2010.
He told AP that he was motivated by his belief in cleaner, less expensive and more reliable nuclear weapons and power. He began approaching other countries after his ideas were rejected by the lab and, later, congressional staffers.