Tuesday, a month after their initial plea deals that included specific sentencing guidelines were rejected, a U.S. Navy nuclear engineer and his wife submitted new guilty pleas in a case involving an alleged scheme to sell information about nuclear-powered warships.
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe of Annapolis, Maryland, admitted guilt to one felony count of conspiracy to transmit restricted data in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia.
The couple’s original pleas to the identical counts were rejected by U.S. District Judge Gina Groh last month because the sentence alternatives were “strikingly weak” in light of the gravity of the case. Following the couple’s swift withdrawal of their first guilty pleas, Groh scheduled the couple’s trial for January.
Jonathan Toebbe’s attorneys had previously agreed to a sentencing range that included a possible sentence of between roughly 12 and 17 years in jail. According to prosecutors, this sentence would rank among the most serious ones ever given under the Atomic Energy Act of 1954. Diana Toebbe was likewise targeted by the prosecution for three years.
The couple would each receive a maximum sentence of life in prison and a $100,000 fine under the most recent plea agreement entered on Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble, although the prosecution is requesting that Diana Toebbe receive a sentence that is at the low end of the guideline range.
The defendants would once more have the option to retract their guilty pleas if the court refused to accept the most recent arrangement.
Jonathan Toebbe, 43, is accused of abusing his access to top-secret government data by repeatedly selling information to a person he thought was a representative of a foreign government but who was actually an undercover FBI agent about the design features and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarines.
Diana Toebbe, 46, was charged with acting as a lookout at multiple prearranged “dead-drop” places when memory cards carrying the classified information were left behind. Diana Toebbe was working as a teacher at a private school in Maryland at the time the pair was apprehended last October.
The memory cards were gadgets that were hidden inside of things like peanut butter sandwiches and chewing gum wrappers. He dropped a memory card off at a dead drop location in Jefferson County, West Virginia, and the pair were then detained.
According to prior testimony, none of the information was designated as top secret or secret, but rather belonged to a third classification known as confidential.
The plan allegedly started in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government and expressed interest in selling that nation operating manuals, performance reports, and other sensitive information, according to the FBI. Prosecutors claimed that he enclosed instructions for his purported contact on how to develop a covert relationship with him in the package, which had a return address in Pittsburgh.
The FBI acquired that material in December 2020 via its legal attaché office in the unnamed foreign nation. That started an undercover investigation that lasted months, during which an agent masquerading as a representative of a foreign nation contacted Toebbe and finally paid $100,000 in cryptocurrencies in exchange for the information Toebbe was supplying.
He did not identify the nation to which he intended to sell the material in court records or during oral testimony.
According to the prosecution, the government has retrieved both a “significant amount” of cryptocurrency and the secret information that Jonathan Toebbe had saved on electronic devices.
According to testimony given in court last year, FBI investigators searched the couple’s house and discovered a trash bag full of shreds of paper, hundreds of dollars in cash, the passports of their two children, and a “go-bag” containing a USB flash drive and latex gloves.
At a hearing in December 2021, Diana Toebbe’s attorneys refuted claims from the prosecution that they had messages between the couple from 2019 in which she discussed leaving the country to avoid imprisonment. Instead, the defence claimed that the couple’s desire to emigrate was motivated by their disdain for the then-President Donald Trump.