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By Caitlin Yilek, Robert Legare
February 18, 2022 / 12:57 PM / CBS News
The wife of a Navy nuclear engineer who admitted to trying to pass secret information about nuclear-powered submarines to a foreign country pleaded guilty Friday.
Diana Toebbe, a former teacher, admitted that she acted as a lookout for her husband, Jonathan Toebbe, as he left memory cards concealed in a peanut sandwich and a chewing gum package at three “dead drop” locations throughout 2021.
In court on Friday, the defendant read aloud the elements of the crime to which she was admitting, explaining in part she was “acting as a lookout while my husband made three drops of restricted data.” The two intended to leak the data to a foreign agent and were unaware that their contact was, in fact, an undercover law enforcement agent waiting to catch them in the act.
The plea deal recommends Diana Toebbe be sentenced to no more than three years in prison, although the charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. She has also agreed to cooperate in finding and retrieving the $100,000 worth of cryptocurrency that was paid to her husband for the dead drops and to help the government locate classified information.
Jonathan Toebbe, Monday to one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted data after trying to establish a covert relationship with an unnamed foreign government in April 2020. Toebbe said he would provide the foreign government with documents about nuclear submarine designs in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency, according to court documents.
Months after his outreach to the foreign government, Jonathan Toebbe began corresponding with someone he thought was an agent of the country, but was actually an undercover FBI agent. The government hasn’t disclosed how the FBI became aware of Jonathan Toebbe’s efforts.
The FBI set up four “dead drops” — a method of tradecraft that involves hiding information at a secret location without two people meeting in person — in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Diana Toebbe accompanied her husband at three of the four dead drops and acted as his lookout, according to an indictment.
The Toebbes, who have two children, have been held in jail since their arrest in October.
Diana Toebbe took a more aggressive legal approach than her husband, fighting to be released to her family’s home in Annapolis, Maryland to care for their children until her trial, but her request was denied by a West Virginia judge. She also hired a team of attorneys while her husband relied on a public defender.
Prosecutors said last year that she was a flight risk, citing messages between Diana and her husband in which they talked about quickly fleeing the U.S.
Diana Toebbe’s legal team argued that prosecutors weren’t sharing the whole story, saying that her desire to leave the U.S. was based on her distaste for then-President Trump and not on her husband’s attempts to sell classified information to a foreign nation.
“Rather than scheming to escape capture and prosecution for crimes, Mrs. Toebbe was clearly motivated to leave the country for political reasons. Specifically, the additional messages show that Mrs. Toebbe, like many politically left-leaning individuals at the time, was intensely upset with the direction of the country under the former president,” her legal team said in court documents.
The messages about fleeing were sent nearly a year before her husband contacted the foreign government, her legal team said.
“She never received training” in any type of counterintelligence, her defense attorney, Edward MacMahon, at a court hearing in October. “She’s just a schoolteacher.”
Friday’s plea agreement, however, indicates Diana Toebbe and her defense found the government’s evidence against her was too strong to defend at trial.
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First published on February 18, 2022 / 12:57 PM
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