Maryland man accused of spying pleads not guilty, will remain in jail until trial

  • In US
  • 2021-10-20 20:18:00Z
  • By NBC News

A Maryland man accused of trying to sell sensitive secrets to a foreign country about the U.S. Navy's nuclear-powered submarines will remain in jail while waiting for a trial that could result in life sentences for him and his wife if they're convicted.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe (pronounced "Toby") of Annapolis pleaded not guilty Wednesday during separate hearings in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia. They were arrested on Oct. 9 after the FBI said he placed a digital memory card at a site where he thought a foreign contact would retrieve it.

He waived his right to a detention hearing, according to his lawyer, Nicholas Compton. "He understands he'll remain incarcerated," Compton said.

U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble accepted the wavier and ordered him to remain in jail until the couple's trial, which is tentatively scheduled to begin Dec. 14.

Diana Toebbe's lawyer, Edward MacMahon, argued against detention for her, noting that the FBI had no direct evidence that she knew her husband was intending to pass along classified information to another country: "It's just speculation."

The judge said he will issue a written ruling later on whether she must be detained or can be released to home confinement with electronic monitoring.

Prosecutors said Jonathan Toebbe, who worked on the Navy's nuclear propulsion program, mailed a package of classified information in April 2020 to representatives of a foreign nation, offering to reveal many more secrets in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

Officials in that nation, which authorities have declined to name, alerted the U.S., and the FBI reached out to him, pretending to be from the country he contacted, according to court documents. Prosecutors said he at first wanted to deal strictly by email but later agreed to store the data on SD cards, which he would leave at designated "dead drop" locations.

Investigators said earlier this year he concealed the cards in half a peanut butter sandwich, a chewing gum package and a sealed Band-Aid wrapper, making the drops in June, July, August and October. Court documents said the cards included designs for the Navy's Virginia class submarines - nuclear-powered, fast-attack vessels capable of firing cruise missiles and incorporating stealth technology.

At three of the four drop locations, the FBI said, Diana Toebbe stood nearby and acted as a lookout.

FBI agents Peter Olinits, who worked on the case, said the Toebbe's were identified when the FBI saw them return to a car, which was registered to her, at the first dead drop location. They wore clothes for hiking, "dressed to blend in," he said.

Court documents contained long excerpts from letters that investigators said Toebbe included on the SD cards. "I must be careful at every step," one said. Another said he gathered the information slowly and carefully a few pages at a time "over several years in the normal course of my job to avoid attracting attention."

He said in the messages that he would deliver four dozen more packages in return for a total of $5 million in cryptocurrency payments, according to prosecutors. Olinitis testified during Wednesday's hearing that Toebbe wrote in his initial mailing that if the first country he contacted did not respond, he would try sending the information to another country.


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