Government uses still images, video surveillance of dead drops in espionage case
By KELSIE LeROSE
Special to The News and Sentinel
MARTINSBURG — A day after their indictment on charges of selling of classified data about nuclear-powered submarines to an unnamed foreign country, a Maryland couple appeared in federal court Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to the three counts alleged.
Jonathan Toebbe, 42, a Navy nuclear engineer, and his wife, Diana, 45, are charged with conspiracy to communicate restricted data and two counts of communication of restricted data. For each count, they face a maximum up to life in prison, a $100,000 fine and five years of supervised release.
Prosecutors allege Jonathan Toebbe stole classified data under his clearance over a period of years, since at least 2018, according to testimony Wednesday by FBI Special Agent, Peter Olinits with the Pittsburgh branch.
Jonathan is alleged to have tried to pass the restricted data that dealt with the design of the Virginia-class submarines, nuclear-powered warships currently used by the Navy until 2060, to an unnamed country in exchange for payment in cryptocurrency. However, he was selling the informaton to an undercover FBI agent.
Diana Toebbe, a private school teacher, is charged with aiding and abetting her husband by serving as a lookout during three of the four “dead-drops” when the sensitive information was left and collected by the FBI. Two of the four locations were in Jefferson County.
Some evidence including still images and video surveillance were presented Wednesday in a detention hearing for Diana Toebbe. Earlier in the day, Jonathan Toebbe waived a detention hearing.
Local agents became involved in December when they retrieved a package containing U.S. Navy documents from the FBI’s legal attache, which representatives from the country had received in April through the mail.
The letter attempted to establish a covert relationship and contained an SD card with 76 pages of confidential restricted data. This was authenticated by a Navy subject expert, according to testimony.
Olinits said the letter gave the unnamed country until Dec. 31 to respond or they would go to other potential buyers. That was when a dead drop was set up for June 26 in Jefferson County.
Three other dead drops were made on July 21 in Pennsylvania, on Aug. 27 in Eastern Virginia and Oct. 9 in Jefferson County when they were arrested.
In total, $100,000 in Monero cryptocurrency was paid to the Toebbes in exchange for the secrets, which has not been located up to this point in the investigation. According to testimony, also not recovered so far is the 50 additional packets of restricted data stolen by Jonathan.
Also on Oct. 9, the FBI conducted a search warrant on the couple’s home in Annapolis, Md. Olinits said among the items seized was $11,300 in cash, a crypto wallet, a trash bag of shredded documents, children’s valid passports and a “go-bag” containing a USB flash drive, latex gloves and a Macintosh laptop.
Olinits said he requested the court to keep Diana Toebbe detained pending the trial, describing her as a potential flight risk. He cited a encrypted text messaging app the Toebbes would sometimes use to communicate.
Diana Toebbe is alleged to have said things such as “let’s go sooner rather than later” and “we need to be actively making plans to leave the country.” Her lawyer, Edward MacMahon, raised the possibility that she wanted to leave the country due to President Donald Trump’s possible re-election.
Other evidence showed she and her husband were trying to get their passports expeditiously renewed and their joint bank accounts have enough funds to leave the country.
MacMahon argued the case against his client is based on suspicion because there was no evidence presented that she ever knew what her husband was doing or what his plans were, stating there is no evidence tying her to the letters, no evidence she had access to restricted data and no evidence from wiretap conversations.
The government noted the aforementioned messages and couple would mention Plan A and Plan B.
A ruling was not made at the end of Diana Toebbe’s detention hearing Wednesday afternoon. It is expected to be made by written ruling and to be filed at a later time in federal court records. It was not filed as of 8 p.m. Wednesday.
In addition to the matter of detention, the court laid out a tentative trial schedule in both cases. Any plea agreement must be filed by Nov. 30, a pretrial was scheduled for Dec. 9 and a trial for Dec. 14.
The judge on Thursday ordered her to be held, pending several provisions.