The Navy engineer and wife of the Navy were detained on Tuesday in preparation for bond hearings. He was accused of selling secret information about nuclear-powered submarines to foreign nations as part of a sophisticated espionage scheme that was undercover by the FBI.
Jonathan Toebbe, 42, formerly assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, and Diana Toebbe, 45, accused of serving as a lookout during clandestine drops of data cards concealed in a peanut butter sandwich and a chewing gum wrapper, appeared at separate hearings in a West Virginia federal court where a magistrate judge said they qualified for court appointed lawyers.
The Maryland couple was dressed in prison scrubs orange and spoke very little during brief proceedings. Friday hearings were scheduled by the magistrate.
Inciting flight risk, federal prosecutors are asking for both suspects to be held pending trial.
If convicted, the charges can lead to a life sentence in prison. The charges include conspiring and communicating restricted information.
According to federal prosecutors Toebbe sought to exchange data for cryptocurrency payments of $100,000 more than a decade ago. Toebbe first made contact with a foreign country in April 2020.
While the name of the country was not disclosed, it is believed that soon after making the initial contact with the engineer, he began communicating with an FBI agent undercover who Toebbe thought to be representing the foreign government.
According to court records, Toebbe kept the correspondence for “several month,” which led to an agreement to sell the secrets data through a series planned exchanges.
More than two weeks after receiving a “good faith” payment of $10,000 in cryptocurrency from the undercover agent in early June, the couple allegedly traveled to West Virginia where – with Diana Toebbe acting as a lookout – Jonathan Toebbe left a data memory card concealed in a half peanut butter sandwich at a pre-arranged “dead drop” location.
An additional $20,000 was paid by the agent, while the engineer provided the decryption keys to the data card. The agent followed this up with a $70,000 payment. In August, another drop of data hidden in a gum wrapper occurred at Virginia.
FBI agents arrested the couple last week after they allegedly placed a third data card containing secret submarine design information at another West Virginia location.