Here's What Happened to the Couple Caught Trying to Sell U.S. Nuclear Secrets

West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority

A civilian nuclear engineer with the U.S. Navy and his wife received lengthy prison sentences on Wednesday for attempting to sell U.S. nuclear secrets to what they believed were representatives of a foreign government.


U.S. District Judge Gina Groh sentenced Jonathan Toebbe, who had top-secret security clearance in his role as a naval engineer, to 19 years and three months in prison, while his wife Diana, a teacher, received a sentence of 21 years and 10 months.

Groh had rejected earlier plea bargains that called for leniency because of the “great danger” that she believed the couple posed to national security. The judge also called the Toebbes “confessed traitors” who committed “horrible acts against this nation.”

Throughout 2021, Jonathan Toebbe provided FBI agents posing as representatives of a foreign nation (which the court did not mention) with information, and his wife acted as a lookout while her husband placed SD cards loaded with sensitive nuclear secrets in “dead drop” locations.

The case reads like an intricately plotted spy novel. The Toebbes would travel hundreds of miles to drop information, exchange encrypted text messages with their “foreign contacts,” and accept payment for the secrets in cryptocurrency.

“The restricted data included ‘some of the most secure and sensitive information about our nuclear-powered fleet,’ according to the commander of U.S. submarine forces, Vice Adm. William J. Houston,” reports the Washington Post.

The Daily Mail reports that Jonathan Toebbe had divided the information he possessed into 51 packets and requested $100,000 for each of them.


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At one point, the Toebbes told their foreign contacts that they had their passports ready and were eager to leave the country, in part because they feared for their lives but also because they were opposed to the Trump administration.

After their arrest, Johnathan Toebbe encouraged his wife to lie about her role in the plot, according to two letters he sent her while they were both in jail. He also bragged that, because of his years of experience in top-secret work, he knew how to avoid clues that investigators use to identify threats from the inside.

Defense attorneys tried to paint a sympathetic picture of the couple, portraying Johnathan Toebbe as an overworked public servant who had something like a nervous breakdown and relied on alcohol to cope with his stress.

“I believed that my family was in dire threat, that democracy itself was on the verge of collapse. And that sort of catastrophic thinking overwhelmed me,” he said at the sentencing hearing.

“I failed in my responsibility to the American people to preserve the secrets that were entrusted with me,” he added.

“I should have followed my instinct and tried to talk my husband out of this plan, but then my family’s difficulties continued, my depression was at an all-time high, and I felt like the country’s political situation was dire,” Diana Toebbe said. “I didn’t just fail to talk him out of it; I actually participated in helping him, and I wanted him to succeed. At the time, I absurdly thought it was a way out of these struggles.”


The first guilty pleas that the defense proposed in February involved 12 1/2 to 17 1/2 years in prison for Jonathan Toebbe and three years for Diana Toebbe. Groh called those “woefully insufficient” and sent attorneys back to the drawing board. A second proposal in September called for somewhat longer sentences, but Groh ruled how she saw fit.

The judge gave Diana Toebbe a longer sentence because she believed that Toebbe was “driving the bus” in the scheme to sell secrets. The Post also reports that “she tried to communicate with her husband via handwritten letters she wrote from jail, urging him to plead guilty and deploy a cover story to authorities that she had nothing to do with the plan,” another factor that played into the longer sentence.


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