Underwater spy case: Navy engineer's wife pleads guilty

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The wife of a Navy nuclear engineer pleaded guilty Friday to participating in a conspiracy to sell submarine secret...


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The wife of a Navy nuclear engineer pleaded guilty Friday to participating in a conspiracy to sell submarine secrets to a foreign country, ending a case of espionage that mixed espionage and politics with the setbacks of a suburban family.

Four days after her husband, Jonathan Toebbe, pleaded guilty in the case under a government settlement, Diana Toebbe, a high school teacher in Annapolis, Maryland, admitted her role in a scheme to sell the secrets of nuclear reactors her husband had taken up the navy, and will face a sentence of no more than three years, under the terms of his deal with the government. His plea was entered during a hearing in front of a federal courthouse in Martinsburg.

In April 2020, the couple wrote to an undisclosed foreign government, which delivered the letter to FBI investigators, then set up a series of dead falls to entrap Ms. Toebbe and Mr. Toebbe; he faces 12 to 17½ years in prison under the terms of his plea.

During the court proceedings on Friday, prosecutors explained how Ms Toebbe served as a lookout while her husband filed information at a dead point set up by the FBI. Ms Toebbe said she “knowingly and willingly joined a conspiracy with my husband, Jonathan Toebbe”. attempting to sell government secrets to a foreign nation.

Ms Toebbe appeared in court with neatly parted short, graying hair and wearing an orange prison uniform. She kept on a white surgical mask throughout the hearing. Chained at the wrists and ankles, Ms Toebbe remained motionless throughout the proceedings, responding abruptly to the investigating judge’s questions. Her voice softened as she read her statement admitting how she had helped her husband.

As US Attorney Jarod J. Douglas read the terms of his plea deal, Ms Toebbe appeared to close her eyes or look down for a long period, prompting her lawyer to tap her on the shoulder. She nodded at him in response.

Neither Ms Toebbe’s husband nor her children were present at the hearing, and it does not appear that any family members were present to hear the guilty plea.

The couple’s plea deals will spare the government a lawsuit that could have risked exposing the foreign country involved in the plot – which officials have worked hard to keep secret. It would also have risked making public some of the documents the couple intended to provide to the foreign government.

Mr Toebbe worked at the Washington Navy Yard, developing nuclear reactors for US submarines. Although he had access to some of the most protected secrets in the country, the exact nature of the material he tried to sell in exchange for some kind of cryptocurrency has not been revealed by the government.

Credit…West Virginia Regional Prison, via Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Former students and colleagues at the elite Key School in Annapolis have described Ms. Toebbe as growing frustrated with American politics and former President Donald J. Trump.

Her too complained about her salary at school. Her husband earned a good salary from the government as a highly trained nuclear engineer, $153,737 a year. Ms. Toebbe had even stronger academic credentials, holding a doctorate. from Emory University, but she earned less than some of her male colleagues, a source of friction she would express in front of her classes, according to former students.

And, according to people briefed on the investigation, they believed the couple’s motivation was financial.

Under the terms of her plea deal, Ms Toebbe could face hefty fines and government restitution, although the government is unlikely to be able to take her home.

At an earlier hearing into her detention, the government read encrypted text messages between the couple which prosecutors said showed Ms Toebbe’s alienation from the United States. The defense replied that Ms. Toebbe’s frustration with Mr. Trump was hardly a betrayal and was in fact something many Americans shared.

The Toebbes have two school-aged children who, until their parents’ arrest, attended the school where their mother taught.

Some of the text messages revealed in court and discussions with people knowledgeable about the case portrayed Ms Toebbe as either an equal partner in the plot or the person driving the plot.

But at Friday’s hearing, Ms Toebbe only admitted to being part of the scheme to try to sell secrets in the summer of 2021, when her husband arranged with an undercover FBI agent to file charges. material in various dead dump sites. Prosecutors had video evidence of Ms. Toebbe keeping watch as Mr. Toebbe placed a memory card in a peanut butter sandwich and left it with the undercover officer.

From the start of the legal proceedings, Mr Toebbe positioned himself to take on as much responsibility as possible – presumably in an attempt to reduce the prison sentence his wife would be serving. In prison phone calls recorded by the government, Mr Toebbe told relatives that his wife was innocent. And in his plea agreement, Mr Toebbe said he was the one who wrote the letter to the foreign country and interacted with the undercover FBI agent.

Although he implicated her in the plot, all he admitted was that she served as a lookout, which some outside observers said was the bare minimum, given that the FBI had video torque at the neutral points they had installed.

In the government’s view, since Mr. Toebbe had the security clearance and had stolen the equipment from the Navy, he was most culpable.

While all proceedings in the case, including Friday’s, were overseen by Magistrate Judge Robert W. Trumble, Ms. Toebbe’s final sentencing will be handed down by Chief District Judge Gina M. Groh.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Underwater spy case: Navy engineer's wife pleads guilty
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