Citing the “great danger” that a Navy engineer and his wife posed to US security, a federal judge reportedly gave both long prison terms on Wednesday for a plot to sell top secrets revolving around nuclear submarines to what they mistakenly considered to be a representative of a foreign government.
In August, Gina Groh, a US District Judge, rejected plea agreements that had called for minimized sentencing guidelines and sentenced Jonathan Toebbe to over 19 years and Diana Toebbe, his wife, to almost 22 years. These sentences were reportedly handed down on the 44th birthday of Jonathan Toebbe.
The Annapolis couple and their attorneys also described the defendants’ struggles with alcohol and mental health issues. They mentioned that they were anxious regarding the nation’s political climate when they reportedly sold secrets for $100,000 in the form of cryptocurrency.
Groh added that their tale read like a movie script and that Jonathan Toebbe’s actions and intentions placed military service members at sea and citizens of the country in a highly vulnerable position and at risk from adversaries.
The couple was reportedly sentenced for guilty pleas in September 2022 at the federal court based in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to a felony count each of conspiracy to disclose restricted data.
Diana Toebbe, who eventually admitted to serving as a lookout for her dear husband, got an enhanced sentence when the judge disclosed that Diana Toebbe tried sending her husband two letters while in jail.
The letters were read in court before they could even be delivered. In one of the two letters, Diana Toebbe asked Jonathan Toebbe to flush the note down a toilet on reading it. She asked him to lie about her involvement in this matter scheme and claim that she knew nothing about the project.
Before sentencing, Jonathan Toebbe reportedly described his issues with stress in taking on additional responsibilities and his battle with alcohol. He said he experienced signs of a nervous breakdown over 18 months that he could not recognize.
In August 2022, Groh reportedly rejected their initial guilty pleas to the charges, stating that the sentencing options were significantly deficient, considering the case’s seriousness.
The earlier sentencing range agreed to for Jonathan Toebbe by lawyers had called for a punishment of up to 17 years in prison. Prosecutors had reportedly sought about three years for Diana Toebbe.
During a December hearing, Barry Beck, Diana Toebbe’s attorney, strongly asserted that the couple had been looking to flee the US owing to their contempt for the then President, Donald Trump.
During a search of their house, FBI agents discovered a trash bag full of shredded documents, several thousands of dollars, valid passports of children, and a “go-bag” with latex gloves and a USB flash drive, per an earlier testimony.
Prosecutors mentioned that Toebbe abused his access to super confidential government information and sold critical details regarding the performance and design of Virginia-class submarines to a person he believed was representing a foreign government but was an undercover agent of the FBI.
Diana Toebbe, 46, a teacher associated with a private school based in Maryland when the couple was arrested last October, confessed that she was looking at prearranged “dead-drop” locations where memory cards with secret information were left behind.
Memory cards were concealed in everyday objects like chewing gum wrappers or peanut butter sandwiches. The couple was reportedly arrested in October 2021 after Jonathan Toebbe placed a card in West Virginia’s Jefferson County.
No information was classified as top secret or even secret, reportedly falling into a third category considered confidential, per an earlier testimony.
She mentioned that her decision to participate in such a scheme was “catastrophic” since she is the mother to children aged 12 and 16. She added that she should’ve tried convincing her husband of it.
Groh had to say that this choice was both calculated and deliberate. She admonished Beck, who labelled his client as an accomplice and sought a reduced sentence.
Groh reportedly told Beck that his client had placed the country in danger, and the harm was great irrespective of what they call it.
The FBI had informed that the scheme had started in 2020 around April when Jonathan Toebbe sent out a package containing Navy documents to officials of a foreign government and expressed his interest in selling performance reports, operations manuals, and sensitive information.
The FBI reportedly obtained the package in 2020 (December) via its legal attaché office in an unspecified foreign nation, paving the way for a months-long top undercover operation.
One FBI agent who posed as a foreign government representative established contact with Toebbe, paying in cryptocurrency for the information he was willing to offer.
Groh mentioned that approximately $54,000 of the cryptocurrency was recovered. She levied fines of almost $50,000 on each defendant.
References: ABC News, NY Times