Scientist offered U.S. secrets for $2 million, prosecutors say

By Del Quentin wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Chevy Chase scientist accused of attempted espionage wanted $2 million for his secrets and stashed 55 gold Krugerrand coins worth about $50,000 in a California safe deposit box, federal prosecutors said.

The disclosure came in court papers filed late Wednesday, in which prosecutors urged a federal judge to continue the pretrial detention of Stewart D. Nozette, 52, who was arrested Oct. 19 on charges of selling classified information to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence operative. Prosecutors said Nozette "posed a grave risk to the national security" and was a flight risk. He has a detention hearing scheduled for Thursday in the District's federal court.

Nozette met twice with the agent in recent weeks and exchanged sensitive information for $11,000 via a U.S. post office box in the District, authorities have said. Nozette worked as a contractor for NASA and the Defense Department from 2000 to 2006, and had held other sensitive government jobs over the years.

He pleaded guilty in January to overbilling the U.S. government by about $265,000 and faced at least two years in prison. The case was sealed because Nozette was cooperating with authorities investigating unrelated corruption charges. He had told a colleague that he planned to flee to India or Israel if the government sought to put him in jail for fraud. He told the co-worker he planned to share everything he knew with officials of those governments, authorities have said.

That colleague told federal authorities about Nozette's statements. By September, federal agents had launched their undercover sting. On the day he was arrested, Nozette met with the undercover agent at a D.C. hotel, authorities said.

During that meeting, which took place after the post office box exchanges, Nozette told the agent that he had "crossed the Rubicon" in terms of sharing sensitive data and that he wanted $2 million for the secrets, prosecutors wrote. He told the agent that his wife didn't need an Israeli passport or help relocating to Israel because "she would ask too many questions," according to the court papers.

Prosecutors wrote that Nozette also told the agent he had hidden classified information in safe deposit boxes in addition to the gold coins.

Nozette's attorney argued in court papers that his client did not pose a flight risk. He was charged only with attempted espionage and did not have ties to foreign intelligence services, John Kiyonaga wrote.

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