Dec 19, 2007
Jessica Quintana's attempt to catch up on work at Los Alamos National Laboratory last year could cost her $384,000 if the Department of Energy has its way.
The Energy Department wants the former Los Alamos contract worker to pay restitution for downloading and printing classified information that she took home with her, attorney Stephen Aarons said in recently filed court documents.
Quintana in July pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of mishandling classified material and is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in federal court in Albuquerque.
In a presentencing memo filed Dec. 14, Aarons says it would be unjustified for Quintana to have to pay for the copied documents which are of "negligible replacement value."
Numerous other government officials have mishandled classified information and earned little more than a slap on the wrist, the memo states.
In one case, classified material was discovered in the trunk of a car belonging to a former ambassador to the Soviet Union following a traffic accident, according to the memo. The ambassador was reprimanded and continued in the Foreign Service, the memo states.
And more recently, Samuel Berger, the national security adviser in the Clinton White House, was fined $10,000 after he took classified documents out of the National Archives.
The memo also mentions the members of Los Alamos' corporate management team who in January e-mailed classified nuclear weapons information over unsecured channels.
"Not surprisingly, there were no disciplinary steps taken against the senior executives, let alone a criminal prosecution as seen in the present case," the memo states.
The memo continues: "It seems ironic that the Laboratory would request restitution in this case when the employee happens to have been a college student earning 14 credits at the University of New Mexico while working part time at Los Alamos to help pay for her tuition.
"As the probation office already noted, she is hardly in a position to pay sums to the Department of Energy even if the court considered it just to do in this instance."
Quintana also faces up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, although prosecutors have not opposed her request for probation.
The memo states that neither Quintana's probation officer nor the U.S. Attorney General's Office is urging restitution as appropriate in the case. John Broehm, a spokesman with DOE's National Nuclear Security Administration, said he could not comment on the matter because it remains an ongoing legal proceeding.
The Energy Department has already fined the lab's corporate manager, Los Alamos National Security, $300,000 for the security breakdown, while the lab's former manager, the University of California, recently agreed to pay a $2.8 million fine.
The discovery of the classified material— found during an October 2006 drug bust focused on Quintana's roommate— triggered fresh scrutiny of Los Alamos, which has been besieged with high-profile security problems in recent years.
In his memo, Aarons states that Quintana's negligence brought to light the Energy Department's own shortcomings.
"Though Ms. Quintana was criminally negligent, her negligence was in large measure only a symptom of systemic problems at the Laboratory and environmental forces beyond her control," Aarons states.