A Navy engineer and his wife were taken into custody on Tuesday pending bail hearings for attempting to sell secret information about the design of nuclear submarines to a foreign country as part of an operation elaborate espionage infiltrated by the FBI.
Jonathan Toebbe, 42, formerly assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, and Diana Toebbe, 45, accused of serving as a lookout in clandestine drops of data cards concealed in a peanut butter sandwich and chewing wrap -gum, appeared in separate hearings in a West Virginia federal court where a magistrate said they were qualified for court-appointed attorneys.
The Maryland couple, in an orange blouse, did not say much during the brief proceedings in which the magistrate scheduled detention hearings for Friday.
Federal prosecutors, citing possible flight risks, are seeking to have the two suspects arrested pending trial.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty of violating atomic energy law. They are accused of conspiring to disclose restricted data and disclose restricted data.
For more than a year, according to federal prosecutors, Toebbe attempted to exchange the data for cryptocurrency payments totaling $ 100,000, first contacting a foreign government in April 2020.
The identity of the country has not been revealed, but shortly after this initial contact, the engineer allegedly began to correspond with an undercover FBI agent who Toebbe believed to be a representative of the foreign government.
Toebbe, according to court documents, maintained correspondence for “several months,” leading to an agreement to sell the secret data in a series of 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 reportedly traveled to West Virginia where – with Diana Toebbe acting as lookout – Jonathan Toebbe left a data memory card hidden in a half peanut butter sandwich in a pre-arranged dead drop location.
The agent made another payment of $ 20,000 and the engineer reportedly provided a decryption key to access the data card. A second drop of data hidden in a gum wrap was made at a Virginia site in August, followed by a payment of $ 70,000.
FBI agents arrested the couple last week after allegedly placing a third data card containing secret submarine design information elsewhere in West Virginia.