A former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist, 79-year-old Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, was sentenced to five years in prison and three years of supervision after release in a plea deal for offering to help Venezuela develop nuclear weapons. His wife, Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni was sentenced to one year and one day in prison.
For about 12 months starting in 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) began investigating Mascheroni. At one time, he had worked in a laboratory’s nuclear weapons design division but in 1998, was laid off. His wife also worked in the same lab for over 25 years. It was after losing his job and the US government rejecting his hydrogen-fluoride laser theory of making nuclear energy that Mascheroni became disgruntled.
As a result, he approached Venezuela, claiming he had the knowledge to build 40 nuclear weapons. As part of the investigation, an FBI agent posing as an official from Venezuela began recording conversations with Mascheroni. The recordings took place in Albuquerque, New Mexico where the couple lived.
Mascheroni made numerous damning statements in the recordings, which were played in Albuquerque’s US District Court, saying that he would build Venezuela 40 nuclear weapons over the next 10 years. He also stated that he planned to design a special bomb for New York City. Although that bomb was not intended to kill, it would cripple the city’s electrical system and make his home country a nuclear superpower.
Mascheroni made it clear that he no longer claimed to be an American citizen. His goal was to create bombs that would stop the US from invading his native, oil-rich country of Venezuela and that he wanted power and money. In one statement, he is heard bragging to his wife that selling secrets of nuclear power would make him an extremely wealthy man.
He also suggested in the recording was that after Venezuela was provided with the bomb, it would be exploded as a means of sending a message to the world that they have nuclear power. As far as how serious Mascheroni was in regards to the New York bomb remains unknown.
In addition to the recordings, FBI agents collected computers, books, photographs, letters, and cell phones were confiscated from the couple’s home. According to US government officials, at no time did Venezuela seek out secrets pertaining to nuclear weapons.
Although Mascheroni was found guilty, Fred Federici, Federal prosecutor, said he will never admit to wrongdoing and in fact, he believes that because he was an important person associated with the US nuclear policy, the government has made him a victim.
In response to his statements, Federici stated that Mascheroni was never a hero, only a man who turned his back on his country. While standing before the judge, Mascheroni was extremely defiant, emphasizing that he would have been acquitted if the case had gone before a federal jury.