On October 12, 2021, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe appeared in a federal courthouse in Martinsburg, West Virginia charged with selling restricted information about nuclear-powered submarines to an FBI agent posing as a representative of a foreign government. That claim would have been unimaginable a decade earlier when they were fresh out of a teaching job at Kent Denver, one of Colorado’s most prestigious schools.
It is no longer unimaginable. On February 14, the FBI revealed that Jonathan had pleaded guilty to a single charge – conspiracy to release restricted data – in a deal that will likely result in a 12-year sentence. And in an appearance today, February 18, before the same federal magistrate who handled her husband’s case, Diana admitted to serving as a lookout, helping Jonathan with illicit activities. His sentence should reach a maximum of three years.
Diana’s plea bypasses a lawsuit on the case against the couple, which partly revolves around the contents of a peanut butter sandwich, a packet of chewing gum and a container of band aid.
Last year, Kent Denver confirmed that both Toebbes work in the school’s science department, and the institution is featured prominently on their LinkedIn pages, which are still online. Jonathan’s page, 42, cites his employment dates from 2005 to 2008, after which he attended the Colorado School of Mines, where he earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering while racking up a 3.98 GPA . He then landed a position as a Navy Department nuclear engineer assigned to the naval nuclear propulsion program, shorthanded as Naval Reactors. As part of his work, he received national security clearance through the US Department of Defense and had access to restricted information on the design of nuclear submarines.
Diana’s LinkedIn page, which discloses that her maiden name was Smay, is outdated; he maintains that the 45-year-old started at Kent Denver in 2005 and remains with the team. But he also points out that she started teaching at Key School in Annapolis, Maryland, where the Toebbes raised their two children, in August 2012.
According to the US Department of Justice, the Toebbes were arrested on Oct. 9 in Jefferson County, West Virginia, by FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents. “For nearly a year,” he states, they “sold information known as Restricted Data regarding the design of nuclear-powered warships to a person they believed to be a representative of a foreign power. In reality, that person was an undercover FBI agent.” As a result, the Toebbes were charged with violating the Atomic Energy Act.
On April 1, 2020, according to the department, Jonathan “sent a package to a foreign government, indicating a return address in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, containing a sample of restricted data and instructions for establishing a secret relationship to purchase restricted data additional”. Shortly after, he was accused of having “corresponded by encrypted e-mail with an individual whom he believed to be a representative of the foreign government. The individual was actually an undercover FBI agent. Jonathan Toebbe pursued this correspondence for several months, which led to an agreement to sell restricted data in exchange for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.”
Over a year later, on June 8, 2021, the undercover agent “sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Jonathan Toebbe as a ‘good faith’ payment. Shortly thereafter, on June 26 , Jonathan and Diana Toebbe traveled to a location in West Virginia. There, with Diana Toebbe acting as a lookout, Jonathan Toebbe placed a hidden SD card in the half of a peanut butter sandwich at a pre- arranged “dead drop” After recovering the SD card, the undercover agent sent Jonathan Toebbe a payment of $20,000 in cryptocurrency In return, Jonathan Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD card An examination of the SD card revealed that it contained restricted data related to underwater nuclear reactors.
The feds argue the scheme didn’t end there. On August 28, “Jonathan Toebbe had another SD card ‘fall’ in eastern Virginia, this time concealing the card in a packet of chewing gum,” the department’s statement continued. “After making a payment to Toebbe of $70,000 in cryptocurrency, the FBI received a decryption key for the card. It also contained restricted data related to underwater nuclear reactors. The FBI arrested Jonathan and Diana Toebbe on October 9, after placing yet another SD card at a pre-arranged “dead point” at a second location in West Virginia.”
The affidavit against the Toebbes is 24 pages long and contains intricate details of even more alleged activity, including a fall at a Pennsylvania location on July 31, 2021, in which an SD card was hidden “in a packaging of dressing sealed with tape -Aid inside clear Zip Lock bag.” The card was reportedly accompanied by a long message from “Alice”, the code name prosecutors believe Jonathan used. The text ends with this: “My friend, we have both taken considerable risks to get here and hopefully we will soon have something to celebrate!
This is no longer the case. Conspiracy beef carries a maximum sentence of up to life in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Jonathan’s plea deal, which has yet to be approved by a judge, calls for him to serve at least 151 months, or twelve and a half years, in federal prison.
Jonathan’s plea initially left Diana’s fate in limbo. Earlier this week, The New York Times noted that her attorneys “mounted a defense that she knew nothing of the conspiracy to steal secrets,” including a reference in closing argument to a phone call Jonathan had with his son in which he insisted that she ‘I did nothing wrong. But the Times maintained that in his agreement he “said that Ms Toebbe had taken part in the conspiracy”.
She now recognized him.
In a statement on Jonathan’s plea, Matthew G. Olsen, assistant attorney general assigned to the National Security Division of the Department of Justice, said, “Among the secrets the U.S. government protects most zealously are those related to the design of its nuclear-powered warships. The defendant was entrusted with some of these secrets and instead of keeping them, he betrayed the trust placed in him and conspired to sell them to another country for personal gain. The Department of Justice will vigilantly protect the American people and the security of our nation by investigating and prosecuting those who violate their constitutional oath and abuse their position for personal gain.”
Click to read United States of America v. Jonathan Toebbe and Diana Toebbe.
This post has been updated to include information about Diana Toebbe’s guilty plea.