A court in Albuquerque has sentenced Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, a U.S. physicist of Argentine descent, to five years in prison for attempting to sell an undercover FBI agent U.S. nuclear secrets, as well as promising a bomb that could severely impair functions in New York City.
Mascheroni and his wife, who worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, believed that he was speaking to a representative of the Venezuelan government when he vowed that he could build the socialist nation 40 nuclear weapons and a bomb that would disable New York’s electrical wiring without killing anyone, according to the Associated Press.
Phone conversations revealed this week exhibited in Mascheroni a desire for “money and power,” telling his wife, also convicted of attempting to sell American military secrets and sentenced to a year in prison, that they would be rich from the sale of information. He promised the undercover agent a nuclear bomb for Venezuela within 10 years using American research, according to the BBC, as well as a nuclear plant. The BBC report adds that he promised a bomb to attack New York that “wouldn’t kill anyone but would disable the city’s electrical system and help Venezuela become a nuclear superpower.”
Speaking in federal court, Mascheroni claimed he was incapable of delivering on those promises. “I was basically selling used cars,” he told the court, “What I was selling was completely science fiction.”
Mascheroni and his wife were initially arrested and pled guilty in 2013. At the time, the FBI detailed the elements of his crimes but had not yet released the audio evidence against the physicist. The U.S. government has also been careful to note that Mascheroni’s interactions with an undercover FBI agent do not implicate the Venezuelan government in any similar attempts to extract valuable nuclear information from American scientists.
Mascheroni was arrested after accepting a $20,000 payment for his information from the agent. He later claimed in an interview with the Associated Press that he was not interested in the money. “For a person like me, the only thing that matters is the science,” he claimed, “I consider global security a very important part of my scientific labor.”
The FBI press release on the guilty plea clarifies: “The indictment in this case did not allege that the government of Venezuela or anyone acting on its behalf sought or was passed any classified information, nor did it charge any Venezuelan government officials or anyone acting on their behalf with wrongdoing.”