US naval engineer charged with submarine espionage pleads guilty

Jonathan Toebbe, a former US Navy engineer, was arrested on Oct. 9 following a year-long sting operation by undercover FBI agents.

A Federal Protection Service vehicle is seen parked outside the federal courthouse where former U.S. Navy engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana face their first court hearing. (photo credit: KEVIN FOGARTY/REUTERS)
A Federal Protection Service vehicle is seen parked outside the federal courthouse where former U.S. Navy engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana face their first court hearing.
(photo credit: KEVIN FOGARTY/REUTERS)

A former US Navy engineer charged with attempting to sell secrets about nuclear submarines to a foreign power has pleaded guilty as part of a deal with federal prosecutors, a government lawyer said on Monday.

A prosecutor announced the plea deal during a hearing before a magistrate judge in Martinsburg, West Virginia, which is still ongoing.

Jonathan Toebbe, a former US Navy engineer, was arrested on Oct. 9 in Jefferson County, West Virginia, following a year-long sting operation by undercover FBI agents.

He has been in federal custody since he was arrested along with his wife, Diana Toebbe, who has pleaded not guilty.

Toebbe's agreement with prosecutors calls for him to receive between 12.5 and 17.5 years in prison. He will be sentenced at a later hearing.

 The federal courthouse where former U.S. Navy engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana face their first court hearing on charges that they attempted to sell secrets about nuclear submarines to a foreign power in exchange for cryptocurrency, is seen in Martinsburg, West Virginia, U.S. (credit: KEVIN FOGARTY/REUTERS) The federal courthouse where former U.S. Navy engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana face their first court hearing on charges that they attempted to sell secrets about nuclear submarines to a foreign power in exchange for cryptocurrency, is seen in Martinsburg, West Virginia, U.S. (credit: KEVIN FOGARTY/REUTERS)

Toebbe, 42, who had a top-secret security clearance, was accused of selling secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as a foreign official over the course of several months, the Justice Department said.

The Justice Department did not name the country involved.

At one point, Toebbe hid a digital memory card containing documents about submarine nuclear reactors in half a peanut butter sandwich at a "dead drop" location in West Virginia while his wife acted as lookout, the Justice Department said.

The memory card contained "militarily sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarine reactors," according to the Justice Department.

An FBI agent testified during a court hearing in October that Jonathan Toebbe asked for $5 million worth of cryptocurrency in exchange for the secret submarine information. A payment made by the FBI to Toebbe worth about $100,000 has not been located, the agent testified.