United States

U.S. naval engineer charged with submarine espionage to remain in jail

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Former U.S. Navy engineer Jonathan Toebbe appears for his first court hearing on charges that he and his wife Diana attempted to sell secrets about nuclear submarines to a foreign power in exchange for cryptocurrency, is seen in Martinsburg, West Virginia, U.S. October 12, 2021 in this courtroom sketch. REUTERS/Bill Hennessey

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WASHINGTON, Oct 20 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Wednesday ordered the jailing of a former U.S. Navy engineer while he awaits trial on charges he attempted to sell secrets about nuclear submarines to a foreign power.

Appearing before the judge in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia, Jonathan Toebbe, 42, did not contest a request by the U.S. Justice Department for his pretrial detention.

Toebbe's 45-year-old wife, Diana, who was charged with helping her husband, requested pretrial release. The judge said she will remain behind bars until he issues a written decision on her request. The Toebbes have two children, an 11-year-old and a 15-year-old.

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Jonathan and Diana Toebbe were arrested on Oct. 9 in Jefferson County, West Virginia, following a yearlong sting operation by undercover FBI agents, the Justice Department said in a statement. They have been in federal custody since their arrest.

A lawyer for Diana Toebbe said during Wednesday's hearing that she is innocent and eager to clear her name. A lawyer for Jonathan Toebbe declined to comment.

Toebbe, a nuclear engineer with top-secret security clearance, is accused of sending Navy documents to an unnamed foreign entity in 2020, along with instructions on how to obtain additional information.

The Justice Department did not name the country involved.

Toebbe, with the aid of his wife, allegedly sold secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as a foreign official over the course of several months, the Justice Department said.

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 a federal court affidavit.

An FBI agent testified during Wednesday's hearing 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.

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Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Karishma Singh, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis

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