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Maryland Couple Accused Of Espionage Enter New Guilty Pleas

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe of Annapolis, Maryland, pleaded guilty in federal court to one felony count each of conspiracy to communicate restricted data, a month after the judge rejected an earlier plea.

By Dorian Geiger
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A former Navy engineer and his wife have admitted to selling nuclear warship designs to an undisclosed foreign country.

Jonathan Toebbe, 43, and Diana Toebbe, 46, have pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted data, according to newly filed court documents obtained by Oxygen.com

The couple entered their plea on Monday, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia said. They’d initially pleaded guilty in February, however, their plea agreements calling for specific sentencing guidelines — 12 to 17 years for Jonathan Toebbe and three for Diana Toebbe — were ultimately blocked by a judge who called them "strikingly deficient” in August, according to additional court filings obtained by Oxygen.com. They couple subsequently withdrew those pleas.

The current plea agreements allow for up to life in prison and $100,000 in fines for both, though prosecutors are asking that Diana Toebbe receive a sentence at the lower end of the guidelines. They have the right to withdraw their pleas pending a judge's acceptance of the sentencing guidelines.

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The Toebbes were arrested in October 2021 after a months-long undercover investigation by the FBI. They were accused of smuggling schematic designs of U.S. Navy’s Virginia-class stealth attack nuclear submarines, per the case's criminal complaint.

Investigators say the couple first launched their “covert” plot in April 2020, when Jonathan Toebbe allegedly mailed an envelope containing sensitive Navy documents to an unspecified foreign nation, identified in court records as “COUNTRY1.” The undisclosed country’s government later provided U.S. authorities with the mailed contents. The postmarked package was later traced to a return address in Pittsburgh.

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At the time, Jonathan Toebbe was a Navy nuclear engineer with top-level security access, including an active Q clearance. 

The FBI ultimately launched a counterintelligence investigation into the couple’s activities — and began corresponding with Toebbe using end-to-end encrypted messaging. An undercover agent, who posed as a foreign diplomat, groomed Toebbe for months to earn his trust, officials said.

According to the FBI, the couple went to bizarre lengths to execute the espionage conspiracy.

Jonathan Toebbe allegedly hid memory cards containing restricted data on nuclear reactors aboard warships inside of peanut butter sandwiches, Band-Aids and chewing gum wrappers, which were left at “dead drop” sites in various states, FBI agents said. His wife, Diana, acted as his lookout while Jonathan Toebbe went the drop sites.

“I hope your experts are very happy with the sample provided,” Toebbe wrote in a statement found on an SD card recovered by the FBI. “I want our relationship to be very successful for us both.”

Toebbe later proposed a plan in which he’d provide the suspected foreign diplomat 51 packages of sensitive data in exchange for $5 million in cryptocurrency.

Toebbe claimed he’d smuggled the Navy intelligence “past security checkpoints a few pages at a time,” adding he’d “slowly and carefully” compiled the sensitive data over a number of years. He promised his source that one of the information packs contained “decades of U.S. Navy ‘lessons learned’ that will help keep your sailors safe.”

The FBI later paid Jonathan and Diana Toebbe $100,000 in Monero cryptocurrency for a sample of the sensitive data, per charging documents.

The couple, who were previously deemed a flight risk following their indictment, allegedly kept a “go bag” at their home in case they needed to quickly flee the U.S., according to the FBI.

At the time of her arrest, Diana Toebbe worked as a humanities teacher at the Key School in Annapolis.

The Maryland couple now faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison. They’re being held at Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg, West Virginia, pending sentencing. A sentencing date hasn’t been set. The U.S. Probation Office is currently conducting a pre-sentence investigation, federal prosecutors said.

Oxygen.com has reached out to Jonathan Toebbe and Diana Toebbe’s attorneys for comment.