A former American nuclear physicist was sentenced to five years in prison on Wednesday after being caught on a hidden camera that purportedly showed him attempting to sell classified information to Venezuela, according to media reports. In the recordings, made between November 2008 and July 2009, Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the 1980s, was allegedly seen telling an undercover FBI agent that he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb within a decade.
Mascheroni, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina, claimed that he could build 40 nuclear weapons in exchange for “money and power,” according to media reports. “I’m going to be the boss with money and power … I’m not an American anymore. This is it,” he reportedly said.
In the recordings, Mascheroni reportedly told the undercover federal agent that the possession of nuclear weapons by the Latin American nation would prevent the U.S. from invading the oil-rich country and that once Venezuela acquires the bombs, it should test them in the Pacific to put the U.S. on alert.
“You have to come up and say to the other nations, ‘We’re going to have an umbrella for everybody. If any nation outside Latin America attacks any nation inside Latin America, we are going to retaliate with a nuclear bomb,’” Mascheroni reportedly told the FBI agent posing as a Venezuelan official.
The recordings were reportedly played in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on Wednesday where Mascheroni, 79, was sentenced to five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release as part of a plea agreement. Mascheroni and his wife, Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, had pleaded guilty to delivering restricted information to a foreign nation in 2013. His wife was sentenced to a year and a day in prison in August last year.
“This case demonstrates the consequences that result when those charged with protecting our nation’s secrets violate the trust placed in them by the American people,” Randall Coleman, assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said in a statement released after the judgment was announced.
However, the FBI said that neither the Venezuelan government nor any Venezuelan official had been involved in the attempted leak of classified information.
“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,” the FBI said in the statement.