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Wife of former Navy nuclear engineer who pleaded guilty in federal espionage case expected to change plea

Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut (SSN 22) departs Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for sea trials Dec. 15, 2016. (Thiep Van Nguyen II/U.S. Navy)
February 18, 2022

The wife of the former Navy nuclear engineer who on Monday pleaded guilty in a scheme to sell military secrets to foreign governments may be following her husband’s lead, federal court records show.

Jonathan Toebbe, 43, admitted in federal court in West Virginia he shared troves of date and documents pertaining to nuclear submarines to undercover FBI agents, who duped him into believing they were representatives of another country, in exchange for thousands of dollars worth of crypto currency.

Until Monday, Toebbe and his wife, Diana, 46, maintained she was innocent.

However, Jonathan Toebbe told a federal magistrate judge Monday he conspired with Diana to give classified information to a foreign government. His plea agreement named her as his accomplice and specified that she acted as a lookout when her husband left digital memory cards at “dead drop” sites.

Now Diana Toebbe, a former humanities teacher, is slated to change her plea Friday morning in front of the same magistrate judge, signaling that she’s slated to plead guilty.

Diana Toebbe is scheduled appear at 11 a.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert W. Trumble in the W. Craig Broadwater Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Martinsburg, West Virginia. While she could change her mind any time before or during the proceeding Friday, the court hearing should expedite resolutions in the cases of the Annapolis couple, who were arrested in October on espionage charges.

A federal grand jury handed up an indictment Oct. 19 charging the couple with one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted data to a foreign government and two counts of communicating restricted data to another nation with the intent to harm the U.S. or to give that nation an advantage. They faced a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The government and Jonathan Toebbe’s attorney agreed to argue for a sentence between 12 1/2 and 17 1/2 years in prison. According to his plea, Jonathan Toebbe also promised to help federal agents locate the $100,000 worth of cryptocurrency they paid him and were never able to find, and to facilitate the government’s recovery of any outstanding classified documents.

Jonathan Toebbe held a top-secret security clearance since 2012 while he worked on projects pertaining to Navy nuclear propulsion. In April 2020, he sent a package containing a sample of restricted data to a foreign government and urged the recipient to share it with their country’s military intelligence agency. Instead, the letter was shared with the FBI and the justice department launched a covert investigation.

Undercover FBI agents talked to Toebbe for more than a year over an encrypted email service. They facilitated a trust-building signal display during a holiday weekend in Washington, D.C., and a series of four “dead drops” in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Jonathan Toebbe would drop SD cards, secreted in sandwiches or bubblegum packages, at predetermined locations. Undercover agents would pick up the memory devices, Toebbe would share a decryption key and the FBI would send him the money in cryptocurrency. The government says Diana Toebbe “provided cover” or acted as a lookout on three dead drops, according to court records.

In an encrypted message to agents, Jonathan Toebbe said there was only one other person that knew of his relationship. According to his plea agreement, it was Diana Toebbe.

Diana Toebbe’s lawyers in a December court filing, arguing for her pretrial detention to be reconsidered, said Jonathan Toebbe wrote a letter to his father-in-law saying “I have high hopes that Diana will ultimately be exonerated.” The lawyers also said they had reason to believe Jonathan Toebbe told the government Diana Toebbe was not involved in his scheme.

However, Jonathan Toebbe’s plea agreement, which explicitly named Diana as his co-conspirator, said the government had “no agreements, understandings or promise” with Jonathan Toebbe other than those mentioned in the document. The agreement made no mention of leniency for his wife.


© 2022 Baltimore Sun
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