A former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist and his wife were charged with trying to sell nuclear weapons secrets to a person they believed was a Venezuelan government official, the Justice Department said on Friday.
The couple were also charged with conspiring to participate in the development of an atomic weapon for Venezuela, the Justice Department said.
A federal grand jury returned a 22-count indictment on Thursday in New Mexico and the FBI arrested US citizens Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, 75, and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, 67, on Friday, the Justice Department said.
If convicted on all charges, they could face life in prison.
“The indictment does not allege that the government of Venezuela or anyone acting on its behalf sought or was passed any classified information,” the Justice Department said.
Mascheroni, a physicist who worked from 1979 to 1988 at the US government facility in New Mexico which conducts nuclear weapons research, and his wife, who did technical writing and editing, worked there from 1981 to this year.
Mascheroni in March 2008 allegedly told an undercover FBI agent posing as a Venezuelan government official that he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years, according to the indictment.
He allegedly asked about obtaining Venezuelan citizenship, discussed payment and told the undercover agent to address him as “Luke” and that he would set up an e-mail account, the Justice Department said.
In November 2008, Mascheroni allegedly delivered to a “dead drop,” which was a post office box, a disk with a coded 132-page document, “A Deterrence Program for Venezuela,” on it which contained classified nuclear weapons data, the Justice Department said.
Mascheroni said the fee for producing the document was US$793,000, the Justice Department said.
In July last year, Mascheroni delivered to the dead drop a disk that contained a 39-page document with classified nuclear weapons data, according to the indictment.
“The conduct alleged in this indictment is serious and should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider compromising our nation’s nuclear secrets for profit,” US Assistant Attorney General David Kris said in a statement.