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American couple who tried selling nuclear secrets to foreign country given lengthy prison sentences

Jess Hardiman

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| Last updated 

American couple who tried selling nuclear secrets to foreign country given lengthy prison sentences

Featured Image Credit: West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority

A US couple who tried selling nuclear secrets to a foreign country have been handed lengthy prison sentences and ordered to pay almost $100,000 between them.

After pleading guilty to conspiracy earlier this year, Jonathan Toebbe, 44, was sentenced to 19 years and four months in prison, while wife Diana Toebbe, 46, was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months - her time increased by 10 years after trying to smuggle two letters to her husband while in custody.

The couple, of Maryland, Annapolis, were also fined $45,700 and $50,000 respectively.

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Jonathan Toebbe was sentenced to 19 years. Credit: West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority
Jonathan Toebbe was sentenced to 19 years. Credit: West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority

U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld said: “If not for the remarkable efforts of FBI agents, the sensitive data stolen by Mr. Toebbe could have ended up in the hands of an adversary of the United States and put the safety of our military and our nation at risk.

“The FBI keeps American citizens safe from enemies both foreign and domestic and this case is an excellent reminder of their important work.”

William Ihlenfeld praised the work of the FBI. Credit: US Department of Justice
William Ihlenfeld praised the work of the FBI. Credit: US Department of Justice
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In a criminal complaint outlining the charges against Jonathan Toebbe, 42, the US government previously explained how he had sold sensitive information to a contact he believed represented a foreign power, although the nation was not named.

At the time, he was employed as a nuclear engineer with the Navy, assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program.

Toebbe 'passed, and continues to pass, Restricted Data as defined by the Atomic Energy Act ... to a foreign government ... with the witting assistance of his spouse’, the complaint said.

Diana Toebbe received a longer sentence of 21 years. Credit: West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority
Diana Toebbe received a longer sentence of 21 years. Credit: West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority
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According to a press release from the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of West Virginia, Toebbe held an active national security clearance through the Department of Defense, giving him access to restricted data, such as information ‘concerning naval nuclear propulsion including information related to military sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear powered warships’.

Toebbe had sent a package of Navy documents to a foreign government, saying he was interested in selling operations manuals and performance reports, along with other sensitive information.

It was received by the FBI's legal office in the foreign country, with an agent then posing as a government later sending $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe to seal the deal.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe. Credit: Instagram/Diana Toebbe
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe. Credit: Instagram/Diana Toebbe
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Shortly afterwards, Toebbe made a dead drop by placing an SD card concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged location.

After retrieving the SD card, the undercover agent sent Jonathan Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment, before arranging another dead drop in eastern Virginia with Toebbe.

The FBI then arrested Toebbe and his wife after he placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged ‘dead drop’ at a second location in West Virginia – this time after a payment of $70,000 in cryptocurrency.

During a hearing in December 2021, Diana Toebbes described her participation as 'catastrophic' and that she should have talked her husband out of it. But judge Gina Groh told her attorney: “Your client put this country in great danger. No matter what you call it, the harm to this nation was great.”

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Mike Nordwall, FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge, said: “The Toebbes were willing to compromise the security of the nation by selling information related to naval nuclear propulsion systems. They are now being held accountable for their actions.

“The FBI and our federal partners have an unwavering commitment to protect U.S. secrets and will continue to aggressively investigate and expose espionage activities conducted on U.S. soil.”

Topics: News, US News

Jess Hardiman
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