Wife of former Navy engineer pleads guilty to trying to sell nuclear secrets
The wife of a former Navy engineer admitted in federal court Friday that she helped her husband try to sell secrets about nuclear-powered warships to a foreign country.
Diana Toebbe, 46, pleaded guilty in federal court in West Virginia to conspiring to communicate restricted data, a charge that carries a potential sentence of life in prison. Under her deal with federal prosecutors, she will serve up to three years in prison, significantly less than the roughly 12 to 17 years that her husband, Jonathan, is expected to spend behind bars after pleading guilty Monday to the same offense.
During the course of the conspiracy, Diana Toebbe served as a lookout three times while her husband left nuclear secrets during “dead drops” that were picked up by undercover FBI agents as part of a yearlong sting operation targeting the Maryland couple. The Toebbes were arrested in October.
Jonathan Toebbe is a former Navy nuclear engineer who had a security clearance that gave him access to secrets about the propulsion systems of nuclear-powered warships.
In April 2020, the FBI alleged, Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to a foreign government that contained secret government information and instructions on how to contact him. The foreign government, which was not identified in court papers, forwarded the information to the FBI in December, and the agency quickly began its sting.
An FBI agent pretending to be a representative of the foreign government emailed Jonathan Toebbe seeking to arrange the sale of U.S. secrets, according to court papers.
In June, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe as a “good faith payment,” court papers allege. A few weeks later, court papers say, the Toebbes traveled to West Virginia and left a data card hidden in a peanut butter sandwich at a dead drop. Diana Toebbe stood guard as lookout, court papers say.
The undercover agent sent Jonathan Toebbe $20,000 more in cryptocurrency in exchange for the information, which contained secrets about submarine nuclear reactors, according to court papers.
The undercover agent paid Jonathan Toebbe $70,000 more in cryptocurrency in August for another data card containing sensitive secrets. Toebbe concealed the card in a chewing gum package that he left at another dead drop in Virginia. That data card contained a typed message, according to court papers, stating that “there is only one other person I know is aware of our special relationship, and I trust that person absolutely.” Authorities said he was referring to his wife.
The Toebbes were arrested by the FBI and the Navy’s Criminal Investigation Service in West Virginia on Oct. 9 as they dropped off more government secrets in West Virginia.
Under his deal with prosecutors, Jonathan Toebbe agreed to turn over all sensitive government information and to return about $100,000 in cryptocurrency that the undercover FBI agent paid him. No sentencing date has been set for either Toebbe.
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