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After Months Behind Bars, Lee Pleads Guilty to Minor Charge

By Bob Drogin

Former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, who has been jailed for nine months under allegations that he stole a vast trove of nuclear-weapons secrets, has agreed to a plea arrangement under which he will go free after pleading guilty to one felony and will cooperate with government investigators, lawyers from both sides said Sunday.

In what appeared to be a stunning surrender by federal prosecutors, Lee was scheduled to be immediately released from jail Monday afternoon and allowed to go home unhindered if the proposed plea agreement was accepted by U.S. District Court Judge James A. Parker in Albuquerque, N.M. Parker’s assent was expected.

“We are thrilled at the prospect that Dr. Lee might be freed unconditionally and be reunited with his family,” said Lee’s lawyer, Mark Holscher, of the Los Angeles firm O’Melveny & Myers.

The deal, which calls for Lee to plead guilty to unlawful retention of national-defense information and which was negotiated in secret sessions encouraged by Parker over the past several weeks, thus brings to an astonishing close a highly troubling case that has roiled the national-security and scientific communities, as well as Asian-American and civil-rights organizations.

The FBI initially investigated the Taiwan-born Lee as a potential Chinese spy, and reports that Lee had given Beijing plans to America’s most sophisticated nuclear warhead sparked more than a dozen congressional hearings last year. The FBI later admitted that it found no evidence linking Lee to espionage.

But Lee, now 60, was indicted in December for allegedly stealing what prosecutors called the “crown jewels” of America’s nuclear-weapons secrets, supposedly with the intent to harm the United States and to aid a foreign power.

A successful prosecution appeared increasingly unlikely, however, after a series of recent setbacks in court.