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Navy nuclear engineer’s wife pleads guilty in undersea spy case

A former private school teacher will serve up to three years in prison after pleading guilty on Friday to aiding her husband in what both believe was a plot to sell closely guarded American secrets to a foreign power.

Diana Toebbe, 46,’s plea comes after her husband admitted his guilt on Monday, Valentine’s Day, and implicated her in his crimes. Both are being held in a West Virginia prison, where they were arrested in October.

The Justice Department said Diana Toebbe, who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to release restricted data related to nuclear designs, which carries a maximum statutory sentence of up to life in prison.

Under the terms of her deal, she will serve a sentence of up to 36 months, the Justice Department said. A federal judge will decide the exact sentence after a pre-sentence investigation and hearing.

Her husband, Jonathan Toebbe, 43, is a former Navy nuclear engineer who was accused of trying to pass information on the design of nuclear-powered submarines to an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of a foreign government. Prosecutors say Toebbe hid memory cards containing sensitive information in peanut butter sandwiches, bandage wrappers and packets of chewing gum.

A Homeland Security police officer walks with his sniffer dog outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Martinsburg, W.Va., Oct. 12, 2021.Jose Luis Magana / AP file

During a hearing Monday in a West Virginia courtroom, Jonathan Toebbe pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to release restricted data. The plea deal provides for a possible sentence of 12½ to 17½ years in prison.

Prosecutors said in court papers the scheme began in April 2020 when Jonathan Toebbe, who worked on the Navy’s nuclear propulsion program, sent a restricted information packet to representatives of a foreign country, offering to reveal many more secrets in exchange for up to $5. million in cryptocurrency.

After the US government learned of the offer, the FBI contacted him, claiming to be from the country he had contacted. The country was not identified in court documents.

Prosecutors said he initially wanted to deal strictly by email, but later agreed to store the data on SD cards, which he would leave in designated “dead point” locations.

Investigators said he concealed the cards in half a peanut butter sandwich, a packet of chewing gum and a sealed bandage wrapper, making the drops in June, July, August and October. Court documents said the cards included designs for the Navy’s Virginia-class submarines, nuclear-powered fast attack ships incorporating stealth technology capable of firing cruise missiles.

On August 28, the FBI had paid Jonathan Toebbe $100,000 in cryptocurrency, according to the documents. The next day, he sent an email thanking the person he believed to be his foreign intelligence official, according to court documents.

“One day, when it’s safe, maybe two old friends will have the chance to bump into each other at a cafe, share a bottle of wine and laugh at stories of their shared exploits,” he wrote, according to court documents.

“I will always remember your bravery in the service of your country and your commitment to help me,” he added, according to the documents.

Jonathan Toebbe agreed to return the $100,000 and restricted data he took.

The couple, who live in Maryland, have two young children.

The plea documents do not specify a motive, but previously filed court documents in the case suggest the company had money issues and was also extremely frustrated with the country’s direction under President Donald Trump.

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