A U.S. nuclear scientist has been sentenced to 5 years in jail for attempting to sell nuclear-weapon secrets to Venezuela, officials say.
Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, originally from Argentina, pleaded guilty in 2013 to delivering secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as Venezuelan official.
The former theoretical physicist at the top-secret Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory in New Mexico, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen, was sentenced to 5 years Wednesday; his wife, who also was employed at Los Alamos, received a sentence of a year.
Mascheroni, 80, was arrested in 2010 as a result of a 2-year federal sting operation, during which he promised the undercover agent he thought was Venezuelan intelligence official that he could offer information that could help Venezuela construct 40 nuclear missiles by 2030.
In secret recordings released by the FBI, Mascheroni tells the agent he could design a bomb that could target New York City, that such bombs would keep the U.S. from invading oil-rich Venezuela.
In the recordings he is also heard bragging to his wife about what passing the secrets would bring him.
"I'm going to be the boss with money and power," he is heard saying. "I'm not an American anymore. This is it."
Mascheroni allegedly asked for $793,000 and Venezuelan citizenship in exchange for selling secrets.
The FBI had Mascheroni under investigation for about a year before his arrest, and seized computers, photographs, letters and and cellphones from the couple's Los Alamos home.
Mascheroni was employed in the nuclear weapons design division at the Los Alamos laboratory from 1979 until he was laid off in 1988.
His wife worked as a technical writer at the lab.
Mascheroni's lawyers said the was acting out of frustration at the U.S. government's refusal to act on 20 years' worth of emails and memos he'd sent to Congress after being laid off, warning about "errors" in the U.S. nuclear fusion program.
As part of a plea agreement, Mascheroni was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque to 5 years in prison and 3 years of supervised release.
He was charged with two counts of communication of restricted data, one count of retaining national defense information, two counts of conversion of government property and six counts of making false statements.
His wife Marjorie Mascheroni received her one-year sentence for conspiring with her husband.