Submarine spy couple receives harsher sentences after judge rejected plea deals
In another twist in the espionage case, the wife of a former Navy nuclear engineer who acted as a lookout for her husband as he passed military secrets to someone he believed to be an agent of another country received a harsher sentence than her husband.
Diana Toebbe, a former schoolteacher, was sentenced to 21 years in prison, while Jonathan Toebbe was sentenced to more than 18 years.
U.S. District Judge Gina Groh, who imposed the sentences, unexpectedly rejected the couple’s initial plea deals in August after she deemed the sentencing guidelines reached by the government and defense teams to be insufficient and not reflective of the crime. At the time, the government sought up to 17.5 years for Jonathan Toebbe and three years for Diana Toebbe.
The couple then immediately withdrew their initial guilty pleas and a trial was set for January. But the couple entered new guilty pleas in September.
Prosecutors alleged they tried to sell information about nuclear-powered submarines to a foreign government. The New York Times reported Brazilian officials alerted the FBI after receiving a package from Jonathan Toebbe with Navy documents and instructions about how to contact him.
The FBI then pretended to be an agent of another country. In a series of dead drops, Jonathan Toebbe passed military secrets to his contact. In one of the exchanges, he concealed a memory card inside a peanut butter sandwich, according to court filings.
The damage the former naval engineer caused to the nation, the judge said, is still unclear.
“It was most probably Mrs. Toebbe that was driving the bus,” the judge said. “She was part of the plan.”
Groh did not appear sympathetic to Diana Toebbe throughout the hours-long hearing, condemning what she characterized as an obstructive jailhouse act in which she tried to pass a letter to her husband while they were both incarcerated in which she urged him to follow their set plan and absolve her of wrongdoing.
“She wanted [her husband] to lie,” the judge said.
The couple has two children — a 16-year-old who lives in Maryland and a 12-year-old living in California with family, an attorney revealed Wednesday in court.