Knoxville (WVLT) - A former Bechtel Jacobs maintenance man at an Energy Department facility in Oak Ridge has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of stealing materials used for uranium enrichment and then trying to sell it to a foreign power.
Sixty-five-year-old Roy Lynn Oakley is accused of trying to sell national secrets from the East Tennessee Technology Park.
But he is home with his wife after bonding out minutes after his arraignment and only hours after turning himself in following what his lawyer calls leaks of the federal sealed indictment, which he calls over blown.
"Mr. Oakley was basically performing a janitor’s job; all he knew was that it was his job to break up these rods to be thrown away. They weren't radioactive, we know that,” says Oakley’s attorney Herb Moncier.
According to the indictment, the FBI alleges that between October and January, Oakley stole broken control rods that were once used in the enrichment of uranium.
"He took rods, and his job was to break them up into little pieces, and throw them away, because they were worthless and whatever,” says Oakley’s attorney Herb Moncier.
Several prosecutors though, allege that those rods actually were barriers, hardware and accessories, used for uranium enrichment and that Roy Oakley knew that selling them or giving them to somebody else could hurt our country's security and help a foreign power.
"One of our top priorities in East Tennessee is to protect the mission, facilities, and personnel at Oak Ridge from both external and internal threats,” U.S. Attorney James R. ‘Russ’ Dedrick said in a release Thursday.
In court Thursday, prosecutors say the investigation began back in October, when the indictment alleges Oakley either had or was entrusted with barriers or hardware and accessories used in uranium enrichment, and that he knew selling them to someone else could hurt out country and help a foreign power.
That somebody, his lawyer says, was actually an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of the French government. France of course is a NATO ally and long has been a nuclear power.
"These broken pieces of rod were to be sold to the French government, ostensibly for peaceful purposes as an ally of ours,” Moncier argues.
Assistant Attorney General Wainstein said in a release, "While none of the stolen equipment was ever transmitted to a foreign government or terrorist organization, the facts of this case demonstrate the importance of safeguarding our nuclear technology and pursuing aggressive prosecutions against those who attempt to breach the safeguards and put that technology in the wrong hands."
On January 26, the FBI and other federal agents raid Roy Lynn Oakley's property between Harriman and Midtown in Roane County. What they seized, federal agents say, poses no danger to anyone else, but Thursday we learned this raid broke open a probe that began back in October.
Oakley came into court Thursday afternoon cuffed and shackled.
Outwardly he seemed unbothered, but actually, "to have this become a matter of national security, and to have this as it has been termed from the leaks from Washington, is stunning, unfounded, and unfair, and somebody is trying to spin this as something sinister compared to who Ray Oakley is,” Moncier says.
If convicted of the two federal charges, Roy Lynn Oakley could spend twenty years in prison and face a half million dollar fine.
Oakley’s trial is scheduled to begin September 26th.
Oakley worked as a low-level contractor for Bechtel Jacobs Company at the East Tennessee Technology Park, a cleanup site that once housed the government's gaseous diffusion plant used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
The gaseous diffusion plant was closed in 1987. The cleanup of the site, including radioactive waste left over from the Cold War years, has continued under a contract with Bechtel. The site is part of the federal Oak Ridge reservation, but separate from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
Oak Ridge is currently the U.S. Department of Energy's largest science and energy laboratory. Between 1942 and 1945, it was part of the top-secret bomb-building Manhattan Project, which turned this rural countryside about 20 miles west of Knoxville into a "secret city" of 75,000 people.
Oak Ridge was the first uranium enrichment facility, and pilot-scale nuclear reactors were built there. About 50 kilograms of highly enriched uranium were produced in Oak Ridge over a year's time for the Little Boy bomb, which was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. The East Tennessee Technology Park is a former K-25 uranium-enrichment site.
The indictment marks the second leak of classified information from sensitive Energy Department sites in the last year.
In October, police conducting a drug raid in northern New Mexico stumbled onto more than 1,000 pages of secret documents and several computer storage devices containing classified information that had been taken from the Los Alamos National Laboratory by a contract employee assigned to archive nuclear weapons data.
Because of that security breakdown, the Energy Department this week proposed $3.3 million in fines against the University of California, which formerly managed the Los Alamos lab, and a consortium of companies that took over the management contract a year ago.
Copyright 2007 WVLT-TV. CBS News contributed to this report. All rights reserved.