Couple accused of selling nuclear-related secrets receives longer jail sentences from judge

Both sentences are beyond what the government had suggested.

November 9, 2022, 5:27 PM

Diana Toebbe, 46, concocted a false narrative about a plot to sell secrets involving submarine nuclear propulsion systems to a foreign country in an attempt to pin the crime solely on her husband and avoid prison time for herself, a federal judge said Wednesday before sentencing Toebbe to 21 years in prison.

Her attorney cast her husband, 43-year-old Jonathan Toebbe, a former nuclear engineer for the US Navy, as the “brainchild” of a “cover plan” to spare his wife in order to have a parent available to care for the couple’s children but the judge said Diana Toebbe deserved an enhanced sentence.

"That’s obstruction, plain and simple,” Judge Gina Groh said on Wednesday. It’s on top of the charged conduct that the judge determined "posed a legitimate concern for the national security of this country."

Groh sentenced Jonathan Toebbe to 19 in prison. Both sentences are beyond what the government had suggested.

Ten years were added to Diana Toebbe's expected sentence because she tried to smuggle two letters to her husband while in custody by placing them in her laundry and having her roommate intercept them.

"Flush this once you've read it. My feelings right now are very complex and include feeling betrayed, lied to, abandoned and cheated. But you don't simply throw away 18 years of marriage. I still love you. Beyond that, I don't know what to think," the judge quoted the first letter saying.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe are pictured in photos released by the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority on Oct. 12, 2021.
WV Regional Jail Authority

She pleaded to her husband, asking him to fall on the sword, plead guilty, and abdicate her from her allegations.

"You put me in great danger. Even with the weakness of the government's case, I may still be convicted on circumstantial evidence. I could go to jail for life for something I didn't do. My lawyers don't think they will give you a plea deal that doesn't involve me pleading guilty," the letter said.The couple pleaded guilty to their roles in a conspiracy to communicate restricted data and secrets to a foreign country, which ABC News has previously identified as Brazil.

The judge said the couple was willing to peddle “secrets that go to the very heart of this country.”

"This was not a crime that she committed at her insistence. Her husband was the principle actor here,” said defense attorney Barry Beck in making a pitch for a lesser sentence. “She made a bad decision that she made not have made if she hadn’t been suffering.”

The defense had suggested Diana Toebbe was suffering from mental illness but the judge was unmoved.

“Your client put this country in grave danger,” Groh said.

According to prosecutors, Jonathan Toebbe, 43, abused his access to top-secret government information and sold information of Virginia-class submarines to someone he believed was a representative of Brazil but who was actually an undercover FBI agent.

Diana Toebbe acted as a lookout, prosecutors said, at several "dead-drop" locations where memory cards containing the information were left concealed in items from a chewing gum wrapper to a peanut butter sandwich.

"The Toebbes conspired to sell restricted defense information that would place the lives of our men and women in uniform and the security of the United States at risk,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said in a statement Wednesday.

Jonathan Toebbe declared himself "deeply ashamed" of his conduct, which he attributed to a "mental breakdown" due to the stresses of work, the pandemic and family.

"I failed in my responsibility to the American people to preserve the secrets entrusted in me," Toebbe said. "I should have done better."