Cash, shredded papers seen at couple’s home in espionage case

WASHINGTON (AP) – The FBI found a garbage bag of shredded documents, thousands of dollars in cash, latex gloves and a “go-bag” when they searched the home of a Maryland couple accused of attempting to sell information about nuclear-powered warships to a foreign country, an agent testified on Wednesday.

Jonathan Toebbe, a Navy nuclear engineer, and his wife, Diana, were arrested in West Virginia this month. Prosecutors allege Jonathan Toebbe attempted to pass secrets about sophisticated and expensive Virginia-class submarines to someone he believed to be a representative of a foreign government but who was in fact an undercover FBI agent . The government accuses Diana Toebbe of having served as a lookout for her husband in several “dead drop” places where sensitive information has been left.

The couple pleaded not guilty in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to espionage charges that carry life in prison. The Toebbes have been imprisoned since their arrest.

The country Toebbe sought to sell the information to was not identified in court documents and was not disclosed to the court during a detention hearing on Wednesday. A judge heard arguments but did not immediately decide whether Diana Toebbe should continue to be locked up. Jonathan Toebbe has waived his right to a detention hearing, which means he continues to be detained.

Peter Olinits, a Pittsburgh-based agent specializing in counterintelligence investigations, testified in support of the government’s argument that Diana Toebbe was a potential flight risk and should remain in jail as the case unfolds. was advancing.

He described how officers, on the day of the couple’s arrest, found at their home, among other items, $ 11,300 in cash, valid children’s passports and a “go-bag” containing a USB key and coins. latex gloves.

Olinits also cited posts from 2019 and 2020 in which the Toebbes discussed leaving the country, including one in which Diana Toebbe said: “I can’t believe we wouldn’t both be welcomed and rewarded by a foreign government. . Months later, in another post, she said, “I think we need to actively plan our departure from the country,” according to Olinits.

But Diana Toebbe’s attorney Edward MacMahon raised the possibility that her 45-year-old client, who worked as a teacher at a progressive private school in Annapolis, Md., Was simply referring to her distress over the prospect of the re-election of the President Donald Trump.

“She is not the only liberal who wants to leave the country because of politics,” MacMahon stressed. “That’s right, isn’t it, sir?” “

The investigation began in late 2020 after an FBI legal attaché office in an unspecified country obtained a package that prosecutors say Jonathan Toebbe sent to that nation. In a letter, he offered to sell confidential US Navy information, prosecutors said.

The letter, sent April 1, 2020, and bearing a return address in Pittsburgh, read: “If you do not contact me by December 31, 2020, I will conclude that you are not interested and I will contact others. potential buyers, ”according to Olinits. ‘ testimony.

After receiving the letter, the FBI began using an undercover agent to contact Jonathan Toebbe, arranging for the information to be dropped off at dead drop locations in the area.

Olinits testified that Diana Toebbe accompanied her husband on three of the four missions. To avoid suspicion, Olinits said, the Toebbes dressed as tourists or hikers and meandered around the drop site. Authorities say Jonathan Toebbe left flashcards containing government secrets at the scene, concealing them in items including a bubblegum wrap, a bandage wrap and a peanut butter sandwich.

Olinits said the FBI was unable to locate the roughly $ 100,000 in cryptocurrency payments the office sent to the Toebbes in exchange for stolen government secrets, and agents have yet to recover. all classified documents.

MacMahon, Diana Toebbe’s attorney, argued that because the FBI did not record any of the couple’s conversations, officers had no evidence that her client had any knowledge of her husband’s activities or that that he was doing precisely.

He said the couple, who have children, had planned a family trip, which may explain the bag officers found and why their passports were being renewed. And he suggested that Diana Toebbe, who has a doctorate in anthropology, has no knowledge of nuclear submarines.

“Did it occur to you in your investigation that perhaps Mr. Toebbe was telling him that he was up to something other than espionage against the United States?” Mac Mahon asked.

“I think it would be a tough thing to sell, but maybe,” Olinits said.


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