Maryland couple plead guilty to selling nuclear secrets

WV Regional Prison Authority

(ANNAPOLIS, MD) — Jonathan and Diana Toebbe pleaded guilty for the second time Tuesday to federal charges of attempting to sell secrets about the nuclear propulsion systems of U.S. submarines to a foreign country.

The couple initially pleaded guilty in February, but a judge threw out the plea deals last month after deciding the sentences sought were too low.

The Toebbes, of Annapolis, Maryland, seemed to neighbors and coworkers to be the typical suburban couple before they were arrested last October for allegedly conspiring to sell secrets about Virginia-class nuclear submarines to a foreign country, which was not identified in court. newspapers but was Brazil, a source told ABC News.

At the time of his plea, Toebbe admitted to sending a package to a foreign government, indicating a return address in Pittsburgh that contained a sample of restricted data and instructions for establishing a relationship to purchase additional restricted data.

Toebbe said he started corresponding with someone he thought was a foreign government official who was actually an undercover FBI agent.

On June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe as a “good faith” payment.

Weeks later, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe traveled to a location in West Virginia, prosecutors said. There, with Diana Toebbe acting as lookout, Jonathan Toebbe placed an SD card concealed in half of a peanut butter sandwich in a pre-arranged “dead drop” location, they said.

After recovering the SD card, the undercover agent sent Jonathan Toebbe a cryptocurrency payment of $20,000, prosecutors said. In return, Jonathan Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD card. A review of the SD card revealed it contained restricted data related to underwater nuclear reactors, according to the indictment.

Diana Toebbe, 46, pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiring to release restricted data, admitting she ‘knowingly and willfully’ joined in a conspiracy with her husband, a former nuclear engineer of the United States Navy, to sell secrets to a foreign country, which ABC News previously identified as Brazil.

“I stood watch for my husband when he repaired three deaths,” Toebbe said.

According to the charging documents, one of those dead drops included a blue 16GB SanDisk SD card “wrapped in plastic and placed between two slices of bread on top of half a peanut butter sandwich.”

The new plea deal appeared to demand a sentence of around 12 years in prison, four times longer than Diana Toebbe’s earlier deal. Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble accepted his plea but noted that another judge would determine whether the new sentences were sufficient.

Jonathan Toebbe, 43, also pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiring to release restricted data under an agreement that carries a sentence of up to 17 years in prison.

Toebbe sent a letter to Brazil’s intelligence service in April 2020 that “stated his desire to sell documents containing U.S. Navy information marked CONFIDENTIAL that included printouts, digital media files containing technical details, manuals for usage and performance reports,” according to the charging documents. .

“I apologize for this bad translation in your language. Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency. I believe this information will be of great value to your nation. This is not a hoax,” the letter reads, according to the criminal complaint.

His theft “irretrievably compromised” a vital part of national defense, Judge Gina Groh said in August when she rejected initial plea deals.

During the hearing, Groh read an impact statement submitted by the Navy which said, in part, that “the breadth and depth of Mr. Toebbe’s betrayal for personal gain is extraordinary.”

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