Former U.S. Navy nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe, who had worked previously at a West Mifflin atomic laboratory, admitted Monday that he tried to sell nuclear submarine secrets to a foreign power for $100,000.
Toebbe, 43, of Annapolis, Md., pleaded guilty in Martinsburg, W.Va., and became a federal felon in pleading guilty to conspiracy to communicate protected data.
He faces a sentencing range of 12 to 17 years.
He admitted that he conspired with his wife, Diana, to transmit the data between April 1, 2020, and Oct. 9, 2021, in Jefferson County, W.Va., and elsewhere.
The couple had been arrested in October after Jonathan placed a memory card in a pre-arranged location in Jefferson County following an undercover investigation by the Pittsburgh FBI.
Agents said Toebbe had tried to sell information pertaining to the design of nuclear reactors for Virginia-class submarines. He had dropped off secret data at four dead-drop sites in West Virginia, central Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Toebbe thought he was dealing with a foreign government representative.
But his contact was an FBI agent.
Toebbe began his employment with the government in 2012 and worked on naval nuclear propulsion projects. He had also worked at the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory in West Mifflin, which does work on nuclear power projects for the Navy.
The case began in December 2020 when an FBI office in an unnamed foreign country received a package that representatives from the country had received in April 2020 with a return address in Pittsburgh.
The package contained U.S. Navy documents, a letter of introduction and a memory card containing specific instructions on how the foreign government should respond using an encrypted communication platform.
The FBI began an undercover operation on Dec. 26, 2020, with an agent posing as a representative of the foreign country using the name “Bob.”
In detailed communications from that point on, “Bob” agreed to pay Toebbe thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency for the information he was offering.
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