A former US Navy engineer and his wife have been jailed in West Virginia for trying to sell military secrets to an unspecified foreign country.
Jonathan Toebbe, 42, had worked in the office of the chief of naval operations and was caught offering secrets about nuclear-powered submarines.
He was jailed for 18 years, while his wife Diana received 21 years – a much harsher sentence than expected.
The judge suggested the wife, 42, had been in charge of the operation.
Court documents revealed that the former teacher had acted as a lookout for her husband when he left information at dead drops, once hiding a data card inside a peanut butter sandwich.
Prosecutors had originally sought sentences of up to 17.5 years for Toebbe and three years for his wife. But this summer, US Judge Gina Groh said she considered the guidelines insufficient.
“It was most probably Mrs Toebbe that was driving the bus,” the judge said. “She was part of the plan.”
“The harm to this nation is grave, and these are scary times we live in,” the judge said at the sentencing hearing in Martinsburg.
Judge Groh also expressed exasperation at the behaviour of the wife, who was caught passing a letter to her husband while they were both incarcerated urging him to follow their plan and absolve her of wrongdoing.
“She wanted [her husband] to lie,” the judge said.
The husband was an expert in nuclear-propulsion systems on submarines, one of the nation’s most closely guarded secrets.
The attempts at espionage began in April 2020 when, according to the justice department, the husband contacted an official who worked for a foreign government by sending them a package in the mail with a note saying he could provide them with information about nuclear submarines.
The New York Times reported that Brazilian officials had contacted the FBI after being approached by the husband.
The FBI then posed as an agent of another country and Jonathan Toebbe passed them military secrets.