BALTIMORE (WJZ) Jonathan Toebbe, a Navy engineer accused of trying to sell nuclear submarine secrets to a foreign government, has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy.

His agreement with the government calls for him to be sentenced to 12 and a half to 17 and a half years in prison. The judge is not bound by the agreement, and the maximum sentence for the crime is life in prison.

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Toebbe previously pleaded not guilty at his last court appearance in October 2021.

He led what seemed from the outside like a typical suburban life, but it quickly turned upside down.

Federal agents raided his home in Annapolis last year, a move that stunned neighbors who could not believe the father of two was accused of selling government secrets.

The plot reads like a Hollywood script: The government says Toebbe placed top secret information about nuclear submarines on small data storage devices then shopped them around to foreign governments. A country that remains unnamed contacted the FBI. 

Agents set up a sting operation where Toebbe, believing he was dealing with foreign intelligence, dropped off the classified information at locations in West Virginia and Pennsylvania. He hid them on thumb drives in peanut butter sandwiches and gum wrappers.

“There’s a message here for anyone who would sell out America’s secrets,” Assistant Director Alan Kohler Jr. of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division said in a prepared statement.

Here is a more detailed outline of the crimes from federal prosecutors:

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“On June 8, 2021, the undercover agent sent $10,000 in cryptocurrency to Toebbe as ‘good faith’ payment. Shortly afterwards, on June 26, Toebbe serviced a dead drop by placing an SD card, which was concealed within half a peanut butter sandwich and contained military sensitive design elements relating to submarine nuclear reactors, at a pre-arranged location. After retrieving the SD card, the undercover agent sent Toebbe a $20,000 cryptocurrency payment. In return, Toebbe emailed the undercover agent a decryption key for the SD Card. A review of the SD card revealed that it contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors. On Aug. 28, Toebbe made another “dead drop” of an SD card in eastern Virginia, this time concealing the card in a chewing gum package. After making a payment to Toebbe of $70,000 in cryptocurrency, the FBI received a decryption key for the card. It, too, contained Restricted Data related to submarine nuclear reactors. The FBI arrested Toebbe and his wife on Oct. 9, after he placed yet another SD card at a pre-arranged ‘dead drop’ at a second location in West Virginia.”

The government accuses his wife Diana Toebbe of serving as a lookout. She has pleaded not guilty.

Diana made knitting videos on YouTube and used to teach at the Key School.

In a previous court filing, her lawyer said she had no idea what her husband was doing. He argued for her release from custody.

“She has no prior record of any sort and is not a danger to anyone. She has no money to fly with and she does not have a passport to do so. She has professed her innocence,“ her lawyer said.

The couple has two children.

As part of Jonathan Toebbe’s plea deal, he has to work with the government to recover all of the classified information and return $100,000 in cryptocurrency the government paid him during their sting operation.

He will be sentenced at a later date. 

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“Today Jonathan Toebbe admitted that he violated federal law when he conspired with his wife to sell sensitive government information to a foreign power,” said U.S. Attorney Cindy Chung for the Western District of Pennsylvania. “My office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to identify and hold accountable those who would pursue financial gain at the expense of their solemn duty to protect our country’s closely held secrets.”