Courts & Crime

Feds: Nuclear scientist tried to sell weapons data to Venezuela

An elderly maverick scientist who battled the scientific community for decades over laser fusion was indicted Friday in New Mexico, charged with trying to sell classified nuclear weapons data to Venezuela.

But "Luis," the Venezuelan contact Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni met in a hotel and dropped CDs for at an airport post office box, was an undercover FBI agent.

The former Los Alamos National Laboratory physicist's quixotic crusade to develop energy off the sun, stars and thermonuclear bombs ended in a 22-count indictment.

U.S. authorities stressed that the Venezuelan government had no role in the affair. A U.S. citizen originally from Argentina, Mascheroni, 75, worked at Los Alamos from 1979 until 1988, when they parted ways over his idea to use hydrogen-fluoride lasers to generate fusion. He's been lobbying Congress to fund his theory ever since.

A longtime critic of Los Alamos, he's been dismissed as a nut and called a prophet.

"I would have left this country already if I were a spy," he told the Albuquerque Journal last year when the FBI raided his home and seized his life's work. "Spies do not take their case in front of Congress, and they don't leave all their files and computers and everything here for the FBI to just come and take."

The U.S. Justice Department said Mascheroni and his wife conspired to develop an atomic weapon for a man they believed was from the Venezuelan Embassy. Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, 67, worked as a technical writer at Los Alamos from 1981 until this summer.

Mascheroni allegedly told the undercover agent that he could help the South American nation develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years — and use a secret underground nuclear reactor to produce and enrich plutonium, and an open, above-ground reactor to produce nuclear energy, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

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