US Navy engineer Jonathan Toebbe received the worst birthday gift of all time, when a federal judge handed down a cumulative 41-year prison sentence to him and his wife, for attempting to sell military secrets to a foreign nation.
U.S. District Judge Gina Groh sentenced Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, 46, to 19 years and 22 years in prison respectively on Wednesday, which was also the same day as Jonathan’s 44th birthday.
The sailor and his private school teacher wife were arrested in October 2021 after a multi-month undercover FBI investigation.
The law enforcement agency was alerted to the scheme after Jonathan Toebbe sent a package of Navy documents to an unnamed foreign government with the intent to sell sensitive military information in April 2020.
The foreign nation sent the package to the FBI in December of the same year, and an undercover FBI agent posed as a buyer.
The engineer sold design elements and performance information about Virginia-class submarines to the agent repeatedly for a cumulative sum of $100,000 in an unspecified cryptocurrency, though none of the details were classified as top secret.
Jonathan passed the military data to the undercover agent in memory cards that he concealed in objects including a chewing gum package and a peanut butter sandwich, while Diana admittedly acted as a lookout during multiple dead drops in public locations.
The poorly executed plot came crashing down in October 2021, after the couple made a final dead drop in Jefferson County, West Virginia.
A search of their Annapolis, Maryland home revealed thousands of dollars in cash, valid passports for their 12 and 16-year-old children, a garbage bag full of shredded documents, and a bag with latex gloves and a flash drive.
The couple pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted data.
Prosecutors initially agreed to a deal that would see Jonathan serve between 12 and 17 years and relinquish all classified data in his possession to the FBI, while Diana would only serve three years in prison.
Groh rejected both deals in August, which she called “strikingly deficient” for the seriousness of the crimes committed.
“I don’t find any justifiable reasons for accepting either one of these plea agreements,” the judge said.
Their attorneys entered new plea deals in September, which called for a much steeper sentence for Diana, after the hearing revealed that she sent her husband two letters from prison that encouraged him to tell the court that she “didn’t know anything” about the scheme and flush them down the toilet after reading.
Both correspondences were commandeered by officials before they reached Jonathan.
During sentencing, Diana said her actions were “catastrophic” to their family and that she “didn’t think” of her children, who “suffered the most” as a result of the ordeal.
The judge said her actions were both “deliberate and calculated,” and that “No matter what you call it, the harm to this nation was great.”
Jonathan told Groh the court that he had experienced warning signs of a mental breakdown for a year and a half prior to committing the crime, but failed to acknowledge them as he was dealing with excessive alcohol use at the time.
He said that he believed his family was being threatened and “democracy itself was under collapse,” while former President Donald Trump was in office, and decided to take action to “save them from grave harm.”
Groh told the prison bound couple that their plot was “an exceptional story, right out of the movies.”
“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 from the DOJ.
“The Department of Justice remains committed to protecting U.S. defense technology.”