A federal judge rejected plea agreements on Tuesday for a couple who allegedly plotted to sell secrets about American nuclear-powered warships to an undisclosed foreign government. This transaction would have been exchanged for thousands of dollars in untraceable cryptocurrency.
The judge rejected the plea deal as he concluded that prison time wasn’t harsh enough for the couple. The husband, Jonathan, was a naval engineer, and his wife, Diana Toebbe, worked as a school teacher in Annapolis, Maryland. They were arrested by undercover federal agents in West Virginia last October after a series of “dead drops.”
WAPO: Federal judge rejects plea deals for Jonathan Toebbe (12.5 to 17.5 yrs) and Diana Toebbe (3 years), who face a dead to rights investigation and trial for attempting to sell TS Navy submarine data to a foreign government. Judge says the pleas are too lenient.
— LiberalNavySeal1 (@LeftyNavySeal) August 17, 2022
The scheming couple pleaded guilty in February in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to one count each of conspiracy to communicate restricted data.
Their scheme to make money off the nation’s secret crumbled when Brazilian intelligence officials notified the Federal Bureau of Investigations of the couple’s plot. According to reports, the conspiracy began in April 2020 when the husband allegedly sent a package with military documents and contact information to a foreign government.
He wrote that he was willing to sell the United States operations manuals, performance reports, and other sensitive information. He also included instructions to his supposed contact on how to establish a covert relationship with him. Posing as a foreign country’s representative, the FBI recovered the package in December 2020.
According to court testimony last year, agents who searched the couple’s home found a trash bag of shredded documents, thousands of dollars in cash, valid children’s passports, and a bag containing a USB flash drive and latex gloves. However, their lawyers denied that the couple contemplated fleeing the United States to avoid arrest. They argued that contempt for then-President Donald Trump was the reason for their emigration plans.
The husband who took the lead in this fraudulent scheme had agreed to a 12-year sentencing plea deal, while his wife, who only acted as a lookout, agreed to serve three years.
However, U.S. District Judge Gina Groh said the options were “strikingly deficient” considering the seriousness of the charges. She added that this crime was committed for selfish reasons and could have been detrimental to the nation if they were successful.
A judge said the proposed prison terms for Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Diana, were too lenient, given the potential damage to national security.https://t.co/syHXhgnl63
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) August 16, 2022
She also read a statement submitted by Vice Adm. William Houston of the Navy. He wrote, “The nation has spent billions of dollars developing naval nuclear propulsion technology. Mr. Toebbe’s actions have compromised the integrity of this protected information, thereby undercutting the military advantage afforded by decades of research and development.”
She forced them to withdraw their deals and said she would only accept a plea deal for both parties within the sentencing guidelines, which subjects both guilty parties to more than 15 years in prison.
She said, “I don’t find any justifiable reasons for accepting either one of these plea agreements.”
The judge added that the 36 months was disturbing for her and that “There are lower-level drug dealers that go to prison for way longer than 36 months.”
The couple then withdrew their guilty pleas separately, and the judge set the next trial date for January 17.