A physicist and his wife, who both once worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, were arrested and charged with a criminal conspiracy to help Venezuela build an atom bomb. The arrests of Dr. P. Leonardo Mascheroni and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni and a 22-count indictment came after a sting operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2008 to 2009. A raid on the couple's home in Los Alamos last October hauled away cameras, computers and hundreds of files. They were charged with handing over secret weapons information to an FBI agent posing as a Venezuelan spy.
The indictment says that Mascheroni, a naturalized citizen from Argentina, and his wife, an American citizen, handed over weapons secrets in exchange for $20,000 in cash and the promise of nearly $800,000 in all. According to the indictment, Mascheroni told an undercover agent in March 2008, that he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years and that under his program, the country would use a secret, underground nuclear reactor to make plutonium, a type of bomb fuel. In July of that year, the FBI agent provided Mascheroni with 12 questions supposedly from Venezuelan military and scientific personnel. According to the charges, the physicist delivered to a post office box that November a computer disk holding a 132-page document, written in code, that contained "restricted data" related to nuclear weapons. Written by Mascheroni and edited by his wife, the document was titled "A Deterrence Program for Venezuela," and officials say it laid out the physicist's weapons plan for Venezuela. Mascheroni stated that the information he was providing was worth millions of dollars, but that his fee for producing the document was a mere $793,000, according to the indictment. Earlier in the sting operation, the authorities say, Mascheroni asked the FBI agent about obtaining Venezuelan citizenship. In June 2009, Mascheroni received from the box another list of questions, supposedly from Venezuelan officials, and $20,000 in cash as a first payment. On his way to pick up these materials, according to the indictment, he told his wife he was doing the transaction for the money and was no longer an American.