WASHINGTON,, -- When the FBI searched the Maryland home of a couple who were accused of trying to sell information on nuclear-powered warships for a foreign nation, they found a trash bag containing shredded documents, thousands in cash, gloves, and a "go-bag".
Jonathan Toebbe (Navy nuclear engineer) and Diana Toebbe were arrested in West Virginia on espionage allegations. They alleged that Toebbe tried passing secrets about expensive Virginia-class submarines to someone he believed was an agent of a foreign government, but was actually an FBI agent. According to the government, Diana Toebbe was accused of being a watchdog for her husband at "dead drop" locations where sensitive information was left behind.
In federal court in Martinsburg West Virginia, the couple pleaded guilty but not guilty. If convicted, they could spend life in prison. Since their arrests, the Toebbes were in prison.
Toebbe did not identify the country from which he was trying to sell the information in court documents. This was not disclosed by the court during Wednesday's detention hearing.
Although he heard arguments, the judge did not immediately decide whether Diana Toebbe should be kept locked up. Jonathan Toebbe waived the right to a hearing in detention.
Peter Olinits is a Pittsburgh-based counterintelligence agent who testified in support for the government's argument Diana Toebbe was an alleged flight risk and should be kept in jail as the case progresses. He described how, on the day of the couple’s arrest, agents found $11,300 in cash and children’s valid passports, as well as a "go bag" with a USB flash drive, latex gloves, and a USB flash drive.
Olinits also mentioned text messages that the Toebbes had sent in 2019 and 2020, which they discussed leaving the country. Edward MacMahon (the lawyer for Diana Toebbe) suggested that the 45-year-old Toebbe, who was a teacher at an Annapolis progressive school, Maryland, was suggesting that he was talking about her anxiety over President Donald Trump's potential reelection.
MacMahon noted that "She's certainly not the only liberal who wants to leave the country for politics." "That's right, sir.
Agent also pointed out that the FBI had not been able locate approximately $100,000 in cryptocurrency payments the bureau sent to the Toebbes as part of the theft government secrets.
In late 2020, an FBI legal attache in an unspecified nation received a package that Jonathan Toebbe, according to prosecutors. According to prosecutors, he wrote a letter offering to sell U.S. Navy confidential information.
According to Olinits' testimony, the letter was dated April 1, 2020 and included a return address in Pittsburgh. It stated: "If I do not receive your contact by December 31, 2020, I will conclude that you are uninterested and will approach other potential buyers."
An undercover agent was used by the FBI to communicate with Jonathan Toebbe. The FBI arranged for the information be dropped at "dead drop” locations.
Olinits testified Diana Toebbe was with her husband on three out of four missions. Olinits stated that the Toebbes dressed as tourists and hikers to avoid suspicion. They then wandered around the drop site. Authorities claim Jonathan Toebbe left memory cards with government secrets at the locations, hiding them in items such as a Band-Aid wrapper, peanut butter sandwich, and chewing gum wrapper.
MacMahon, Diana Toebbe's lawyer, claimed that agents didn't have any evidence that their client knew of her husband's activities, or what he was doing.
MacMahon inquired, "Did you notice that Mr. Toebbe might have been telling you something else than espionage to the United States?"
Olinits stated that he believed it would be difficult to sell the product, but it could be possible.