Maryland couple sentenced to 20 years for espionage in Navy nuclear secrets case


A civilian Navy engineer and his wife will each spend about 20 years in prison for offering to sell information about the design of nuclear-powered warships to a foreign government, the Justice Department said Wednesday after they were sentenced in federal court.

Jonathan Toebbe, 44, of Annapolis, was sentenced to more than 19 years in prison. His wife, Diana Toebbe, 46, was sentenced to more than 21 years. The couple pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to communicate restricted data in August.

Jonathan Toebbe was an engineer assigned to the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program. His security clearance gave him access to sensitive information, including the performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear-powered warships, the Justice Department said.

“The Toebbes betrayed the American people and put our national security at significant risk when they selfishly attempted to sell highly sensitive information related to nuclear-powered warships for their own financial benefit,” said special agent Brice Miller of the Navy Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) Office of Special Projects.

Jonathan Toebbe sent a package to an unidentified foreign government containing a sample of restricted data and instructions for establishing a covert relationship so it could buy more U.S. nuclear secrets.

Through encrypted email, Toebbe began corresponding with someone he thought was a foreign government official. But the person was actually an undercover FBI agent, the Justice Department said.

After several months of correspondence, Toebbe agreed to sell restricted data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

FBI agents arrested the couple in October 2021 after they made multiple “dead drops” of sensitive nuclear secrets at locations in Virginia and West Virginia. In one spot, they left a computer memory card hidden inside a peanut butter sandwich while another was concealed in a chewing gum wrapper.

They were eventually paid about $100,000 in cryptocurrency, the Justice Department said.

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