Washington (CNN)A federal judge sentenced a former U.S. government nuclear scientist to 60 months in prison for trying to pass classified nuclear weapons information to someone he thought was a Venzuelan government official.
Former U.S. nuclear scientist gets 5 year sentence for spying
Pedro Mascheroni, 79, formerly worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory and is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Argentina. The purported Venezuelan official was actually an FBI agent helping to run a sting operation. Mascheroni and his wife were charged in the case in 2010. Marjorie Mascheroni, 71, was previously sentenced to a year and a day in prison for her role in the case.
During a March 30, 2008, meeting with an undercover agent posing as Venezuelan operative who called himself "Luis Jimenez," Pedro Mascheroni said his proposed program included a laser "capable of blinding satellites." He suggested that the Venezuelan government could use a nuclear program as leverage with the U.S. government. The FBI alleged that Pedro Mascheroni provided a coded disc with classified data at a post office box drop site. The government says Mascheroni told his handler his fee for the document was $793,000.
The U.S. government secretly recorded hours of discussions between Mascheroni and the FBI. In the recordings Mascheroni calaims he is no longer an American and that he had previously talked to agents of other countries about the information he possessed.
Mascheroni pleaded guilty in 2013 to conversion of government property and retention of U.S. records, as well as making false statements.
Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said Mascheroni violated the public trust.
"We simply cannot allow people to violate their pledge to protect the classified nuclear weapons data with which they are entrusted," he said. "Today's sentencing should leave no doubt that counterespionage investigations remain one of our most powerful tools to protect our national security."
The government claims Mascheroni was motivated by money. Prosecutors don't allege that the Venezuelan government knew of Mascheroni's attempt to sell classified information or participated in the scheme.
"Those who work at our country's national laboratories are charged with safeguarding that sensitive information, and we must and will vigorously prosecute anyone who compromises our nation's nuclear secrets for profit," said New Mexico U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez.