Navy Nukes Engineer on Spying: 'Guilty, Your Honor'

Jonathan Toebbe, accused of conspiring to sell sub secrets with wife, will likely see at least 12 years
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 8, 2021 2:45 PM CST
Updated Feb 15, 2022 7:43 AM CST
Lawyer: Alleged Spy Wanted to Flee US Because of Trump
This booking photo released Oct. 9, 2021, by the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority shows Diana Toebbe.   (West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority via AP)

(Newser) Update: Jonathan Toebbe, the Navy engineer accused with his wife of conspiring to sell secrets about nuclear propulsion systems on US subs to an unidentified foreign country, entered a new plea on Monday in a West Virginia federal court. "Guilty, your honor," the 43-year-old told Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble, meaning he'll likely spend 12 to 17 1/2 years behind bars, reports the Washington Post. The espionage charges against him, a breaching of the Atomic Energy Act, could have meant a life sentence. Although Toebbe initially claimed his wife wasn't in on his spying scheme, he now concedes he "conspired with Diana Toebbe." This could set him up to testify against her if her case goes to trial, per the New York Times. An ex-DOJ national security lawyer says his guilty plea sends "an incredibly loud message," per the Post. "That's heavy time." Our original story from December follows:

A Maryland woman accused of taking part in her husband's scheme to sell nuclear submarine secrets to a foreign power has made a new request for bail, with lawyers arguing that she'd discussed leaving the country because of Donald Trump, not espionage. In October, prosecutors arguing against granting bail to Diana Toebbe showed a judge an exchange in which she told husband Jonathan Toebbe they should "go sooner rather than later," NBC reports. A longer excerpt of the March 2019 text message exchange shows that the couple had been discussing the Trump administration and the sentencing of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort that day, defense lawyers said Wednesday.

According to court documents, Diana Toebbe said they should leave for "anywhere else," to teach in international schools or take French President Emmanuel Macron "up on his offer to harbor scientific refugees." The exchange shows Jonathan Toebbe was less keen on leaving. "Biden/Warren will curb stomp Trump/Pence," he said. He predicted, incorrectly, that Trump wouldn't pardon Manafort. The Navy nuclear engineer warned that his degree "is basically worthless overseas" because the commercial nuclear industry is "dead." After her husband told her that they had savings and "in a real pinch we can flee quickly," Diana Toebbe replied: "Right. Let's go sooner than later."

The Toebbes were arrested in early October after an FBI sting operation. Prosecutors say Jonathan Toebbe stole secrets about the US nuclear sub program from his workplace and Diana Toebbe, a teacher at a private high school, acted as a lookout at "dead drop" locations. Jonathan Toebbe, 42, has not sought bail, but Diana Toebbe requested to be released at the October hearing so she could look after the couple's two children until the trial next year, the Washington Post reports. (Prosecutors say cryptocurrency connected to the case is still missing, along with the sub secrets.)

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