The Department of Justice sentenced a U.S. Navy nuclear engineer and his wife to extended prison terms Wednesday for attempting to sell highly sensitive U.S. military secrets to a foreign power out of angst over Donald Trump’s presidency.
Jonathan and Diana Toebbe faced significant mental health issues and anxiety regarding the perceived decline in the health of U.S. democracy during the Trump administration, leading Jonathan to take preemptive steps to rescue his family from “grave harm,” the Maryland couple and their legal representatives told The Associated Press. Toebbe, a nuclear engineer employed by the U.S. Navy with access to information on classified projects, arranged in April 2020 to sell details of Virginia-class submarines to a person they believed represented a foreign government.
“I believed that my family was in dire threat, that democracy itself was under collapse,” Toebbe said, according to the AP. (RELATED: Army Vet Sentenced For Selling Military Secrets To China)
Jonathan Toebbe received a sentence of 19 years and Diana just under 22 after a judge previously sought to pin the couple for more significant charges than their first guilty plea allowed, according to the AP. Diana Toebbe attempted to deliver two letters to her husband while in jail encouraging Jonathan to conceal her involvement in the scheme, meriting an extended sentence, the AP reported.
U.S. District Judge Gina Groh, who handed down the sentence, said the case “reads like a crime novel or a movie script” and that Jonathan Toebbe’s “actions and greedy self-serving intentions placed military service members at sea and every citizen of this country in a vulnerable position and at risk of harm from adversaries,” the AP reported.
The couple sought to flee the U.S., motivated in part by their dislike of then-President Donald Trump, Barry Beck, Diana Toebbe’s attorney, alleged in a December hearing, according to the AP.
Instead, they arranged to repeatedly deliver information, including operations manuals and performance reports, to an individual they thought served as an agent of an undisclosed foreign government in return for $100,000 in cryptocurrency, the AP reported. In reality, the couple handed over sensitive military plans in memory cards, disguised as chewing gum wrappers and peanut butter sandwiches, to an undercover FBI operative.
Diana Toebbe acted as a guard while Jonathan placed the memory cards at various “dead drop” locations, the AP reported.
Watch a joint message from #FBI National Security Branch Executive Assistant Director Larissa L. Knapp and Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of @TheJusticeDept‘s National Security Division about today’s announcement. @FBIWFO #NatSec pic.twitter.com/nmHZZo9TJL
— FBI (@FBI) August 10, 2022
Authorities arrested the couple in October 2021, and they each pleaded guilty in August, according to the Department of Justice.
“The Toebbes conspired to sell restricted defense information that would place the lives of our men and women in uniform and the security of the United States at risk,” the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for national security cases, Matthew G. Olsen, said in a statement after the sentencing. “The Department of Justice remains committed to protecting U.S. defense technology.”
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