updated 1/26/2009 6:20:08 PM ET 2009-01-26T23:20:08

A former janitor caught in an FBI sting operation trying to sell hardware from a shuttered atomic weapons uranium enrichment plant agreed to a plea deal Monday that carries a six-year prison sentence.

Roy Lynn Oakley, 67, abandoned his not guilty plea to a two-count federal indictment shortly after entering the courthouse, the day his case had been set for trial.

"Guilty, sir," the graying Harriman resident told U.S. District Judge Tom Varlan, to one count of disclosing restricted data in violation of the Atomic Energy Act.

The judge said he would review a background report on Oakley before sentencing him May 14 under the deal to six years in prison and three years' supervised release. Oakley faced up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Acted alone
Oakley acted alone in trying to sell a handful of uranium enrichment parts first to the French government and then an undercover FBI agent for $200,000 in cash, Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Mackie said.

Oakley avoided reporters seeking comment. His attorneys, federal public defenders Beth Ford and Kim Tollison, did not return a phone call later to their office.

"The Department of Justice's highest priority is the protection of national security information, and that would include atomic secrets and matters related to atomic weapons," Mackie said. "The department is committed to running down any and every attempt to breach national security because, as we know in this world, this is a critical issue."

Oakley was a contractor employee with a moderate "L"-level security clearance at the former K-25 uranium enrichment plant in Oak Ridge at least since 2005. He worked as a laborer and escort for other contractor employees dismantling the World War II-era plant, which is being transformed into an industrial park.

The former K-25 site is owned by the Department of Energy, but it is several miles away from other active DOE installations in Oak Ridge: the Y-12 nuclear weapons warhead plant and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

French notify authorities
According to the plea deal, Oakley sneaked six pieces of enrichment hardware out in 2006 that he was supposed to have broken apart. The hardware included three 4-inch long "barrier" tubes for separating highly enriched uranium in K-25's gaseous diffusion process.

Although the barriers are now old technology, they are still classified secrets. "It is not something that we use currently, but it is something that could be used by other countries or organizations," Mackie said.

Oakley tried to sell the parts to the French government, calling French consulates in Atlanta and Chicago and the French Embassy in Washington. The French turned him down and then informed the FBI.

After a series of recorded phone calls, Oakley armed with a handgun met an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of a foreign government. In a January 2007 meeting, Oakley turned over the nuclear parts in exchange for $200,000 in cash. He was immediately arrested, and remains free on bond pending sentencing.

DOE-Oak Ridge spokesman John Shewairy said he could not discuss changes in security at the former K-25 plant since Oakley's arrest. But, he said, "At the time of the incident we did a full comprehensive review of our security and felt at that time as we do now that the security measures we have in place are more than adequate."

The building where Oakley obtained the nuclear parts is slated for demolition in a few years, he said.

More on: uranium enrichment

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