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Plea Agreement Rejected By Judge In Submarine Secrets Case

FILE - These booking photos released Oct. 9, 2021, by the West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority show Jonathan Toebbe and his wife, Diana Toebbe. (West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority via AP, File)

MARTINSBURG — An Annapolis, Maryland, couple – who was to face potential sentencing in a case involving an alleged plot to sell secrets about American nuclear-powered warships – withdrew their guilty pleas Tuesday after a federal judge rejected their plea agreements as too lenient.

A pretrial hearing has been set for January.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe appeared in the United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia on Tuesday for potential sentencing stemming from charges filed against the couple in violation of the Atomic Energy Act. Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and Diana Toebbe, 45, each were each charged with one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted data and two counts of communication of restricted data. The charges came after a complaint was filed and the Toebbes were arrested on Oct. 9, 2021.

Jonathan Toebbe was an employee of the Department of the Navy, who served as a nuclear engineer and was assigned to the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, also known as Naval Reactors. He held an active national security clearance through the U.S. Department of Defense, giving him access to restricted data.

Toebbe worked with and had access to information concerning naval nuclear propulsion, including information related to military sensitive design elements, operating parameters and performance characteristics of the reactors for nuclear-powered warships.

For almost a year, Jonathan Toebbe, aided by his wife, allegedly sold information known as restricted data, concerning the design of nuclear-powered warships, to a person they believed was a representative of a foreign power. In actuality, that person was an undercover FBI agent.

After an extensive investigation that involved the Toebbes providing information to whom they thought was the representative of a foreign power and receiving funds for said information, the couple was arrested and indicted on the three charges.

Plea agreements were reached earlier this year, but in court Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gina Groh denied them.  Groh indicated she had concerns about the plea agreements, finding the binding ranges problematic.

In the agreement for Diana Toebbe, the sentence have been no more than three years, while Jonathan Toebbe’s agreement called for potential punishment between 12 and 17 years in prison.

U.S. Attorney Jarod Douglas defended the agreements before the bench, stating that Diana Toebbe had no previous criminal record and acted solely as an accessory, adding that the actions taken to provide the restricted data to a foreign entity was done by her husband.

“The defendant, Mrs. Toebbe, was a cover and a lookout,” Douglas told the court. “Her contribution was not essential.”

The plea agreement for Jonathan Toebbe was also defended by his attorney, Nicholas Compton, assistant federal public defender branch supervisor for the Martinsburg Office of the Federal Public Defender-Northern District of West Virginia.

“This is serious punishment,” Compton said, referring to the potential sentence. “It’s not a slap on the wrist. It is substantial and reflects the guidelines.”

After deliberating on the comments made by the attorneys representing the Toebbes, Judge Groh advised that she was still concerned over the plea agreements. She questioned the possibility that either of the defendants, upon release after up to three or 17 years, respectively, could again provide information to a foreign entity.

“In the end, I generally honor plea agreements, but I find them strikingly deficient in this case,” Groh announced. “It’s not in the best interest of the community or the country to accept these plea agreements. Therefore, I am rejecting them.”

Following her decision to reject the plea agreements, and after a brief recess for the Toebbes to confer with their respective legal representatives, both Jonathan and Diana Toebbe withdrew their guilty pleas and requested the court set trial dates.

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