Accused spy Jonathan Toebbe of Annapolis pleads guilty to trying to sell nuclear secrets

Toebbe’s plea deal does not resolve the charges against his wife.

Under the terms of the agreement, he faces a likely prison sentence of roughly 12 years to 17 1/2 years. He also agreed to help authorities recover all restricted or sensitive government data, as well as the money that an undercover FBI agent gave him as part of a sting operation to gather evidence against him.

Authorities say the Toebbes, of Annapolis, Md., schemed together to offer to sell government secrets about nuclear propulsion systems on U.S. submarines to an unidentified foreign country. According to court papers, investigators learned of the plot after the country forwarded the couple’s sales pitch to the FBI. The agency set up a sting operation that allegedly caught the Toebbes going to “dead drop” sites within driving distance from their home.

The couple were denied bail after prosecutors said they might flee the country rather than face trial. Diana Toebbe tried repeatedly to be released on bond, saying she did not know of her husband’s spy plans and needs to be home with their two school-age children.

In a court filing last month, Diana Toebbe’s lawyers argued there is “no dispute in this case that Mrs. Toebbe went with her husband to three ‘dead drops’ that were apparently part of his scheme to sell classified information to some third country … Yet the issue in this case will be whether or not Mrs. Toebbe was complicit in her husband’s alleged espionage scheme.”

Since his arrest, Jonathan Toebbe has claimed his wife did not know what he was doing. But prosecutors have called those statements “conveniently timed and clearly biased,” and he said in court Monday that he “conspired with Diana Toebbe” in the case.

In court filings and hearings, prosecutors have painted a portrait of a seemingly normal suburban couple who carefully planned for years to sell secrets about Virginia-class nuclear submarines to a foreign country. The country they reached out to has not been named in public court filings or proceedings.

In a package postmarked April 1, 2020, a person whom the FBI says is Jonathan Toebbe offered to sell nuclear sub secrets to the foreign government and included in his introductory letter a small sample of Navy documents.

“If you do not contact me by Dec. 31, 2020 I will conclude you are uninterested and will approach other possible buyers,” the letter said, according to the FBI agent.

That offer set off a months-long undercover investigation in which agents had lengthy email discussions with the person they later identified as Jonathan Toebbe. The agents allegedly recorded Toebbe and his wife leaving data cards for their supposed handlers, hidden inside a peanut butter sandwich, an adhesive-bandage wrapper and a package of Dentyne gum.

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