Tuesday, December 6, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge hands stronger than expected sentences to Maryland couple in espionage case

The former naval engineer and wife were each sentenced to the next two decades in prison for attempting to pass propulsion secrets of nuclear submarines to a foreign country.

MARTINSBURG, W. Va. (CN) — A Maryland couple will separately spend the next two decades in prison for their attempt to leak nuclear secrets of naval submarines to a foreign government.

U.S. District Judge Gina Groh on Wednesday sentenced Jonathan,44, and Diana, 46, Toebbe to 19 and 21 years incarceration, respectively, after entering guilty pleas a second time to one count each of conspiracy to communicate restricted data in violation of the Atomic Energy Act.  In August, Groh rejected a previous plea agreement calling for Jonathan to receive a sentence for 12 ½ to 17 years and Diana three years in prison after receiving a victim-impact statement from a U.S. Navy vice-admiral that the Tobbe’s attempts to sell secrets of Virginia-class submarines “irreparably harmed” national security.

An indictment unsealed in October 2021 accused the Annapolis couple of attempting to pass secrets Jonathan had on the submarines from his work as an engineer at the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C. to a foreign government identified only as Country 1. Beginning in April 2020, after communicating with Country 1 via encrypted email, Jonathan began a conversation with a person he believed to be one of its attaches, but instead was an undercover FBI agent.

For the next 18 months the indictment accused Jonathan, with Diana as a lookout, of making a series of dead-drops of classified data on a SIM card in three pre-determined locations in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Following a fourth drop in early October 2021, federal agents arrested the Toebbes at a park in Harpers Ferry.

In pleading guilty, Jonathan admitted to a plan to provide the Country 1 attache with a total of 51 packets of information in exchange for $5 million in cryptocurrency. According to court records, the FBI paid the Toebbes $100,000 in Monero during the undercover investigation.

During Diana’s portion of the hearing, Groh read letters aloud made part of the pre-sentence report that Diana attempted to send to Jonathan via clandestine means first on Dec. 21, then on Jan. 4 imploring him to accept responsibility for everything.  This led Groh to surmise that they have a Plan B or C once they get released from prison.

Given her sophistication in attempting to pass the letters to Jonathan, Groh said was indication that Diana was more than just a lookout and deserving of a harsher sentence.

“It’s clear to this court that she was driving the bus,” Groh said.

Later during Jonathan’s portion of the hearing, Groh said a sentence two years longer than the government recommended was necessary as the “cumulative impact of [his] crime remains to be seen.”  However, Groh said she considered the “genuine” remorse he expressed prior to her imposition of the sentence and making “productive use of his time” while at the Eastern Regional Jail teaching other inmates, including one that was with him in protective custody accused of sex crimes with minors, mathematics.

When allowed to address the court, Toebbe, who spoke without notes, said “I come to you deeply ashamed.”  The stress of additional projects with the Navy and the “collapse of democracy”, he said, resulted in him self-medicating and led to life “getting out of hand.”

After admitted he betrayed the trust of not only the people he worked with, but also his former sailors in the Navy, Toebbe said he’s accepting of whatever sentence he receives.

“I am in anguish of what I have done,” he said in tears. “I need to be punished.”

In addition to the sentences, Groh placed Diana on three years supervised release, and Jonathan five. Also, she ordered Diana to pay $50,000 and Jonahan $47,500 in restitution.

Furthermore, Groh granted request by the Toebbe’s respective attorneys that Diana be placed in a facility in close proximity to Annapolis, and Jonathan in Petersburg, Va. so they can both be near their oldest child.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...