A U.S. Navy engineer from Annapolis working with the Naval Propulsion Program in Maryland has pleaded guilty to charges of espionage and sharing restricted data about nuclear-powered warships, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a press release.
Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Dianna were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in October last year and charged with violations of the Atomic Energy Act. The DOJ complaint had accused the duo of trying to sell naval 'secrets' to representatives of a foreign government when Toebbe was actually communicating with an undercover agent of the FBI.
Toebbe had communicated with the undercover agent for months and then after a $10,000 worth of cryptocurrency payment traveled to West Virginia to "dead-drop" an encrypted SD card with some restricted data that he stole over the years using his top-secret security clearance at his workplace. Dianna was on the lookout for this drop following which the FBI agent transferred $20,000 worth of cryptocurrency for the encryption key.
Toebbe made two more such drops in lieu of increasing amounts of more cryptocurrency payments after which the FBI arrested him and his wife from the site of the second drop, which was an exchange at a price of $70,000.
DoJ's press release states that Jonathan has pleaded guilty to count one of the indictments of conspiring to release restricted data that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, a fine of up to $100,000, and a maximum supervised release of five years. This could see the 41-year-old Toebbe spent up to 17 years in prison.
Interestingly, Dianna is not part of this plea where Jonathan has admitted that she was a part of as the lookout and committed multiple overt acts, The New York Times reported. While Jonathan has taken responsibility for major acts in the conspiracy, including her in the plea could end up with him testifying against his wife, if her case comes to trial.
Jonathan's plea also includes handing over the restricted data that he continues to have in his possession as well as recovering the close to $100,000 that the FBI paid him in cryptocurrencies that could not be traced by the investigating agency.