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Maryland man accused of spying pleads not guilty, will remain in jail until trial

Prosecutors said Jonathan Toebbe, who worked on the Navy's nuclear propulsion program, mailed a package of classified information to representatives of a foreign country.

A Maryland man accused of trying to sell sensitive secrets to a foreign country about the Navy's nuclear-powered submarines will remain in jail while waiting for a trial that could result in life sentences for him and his wife if they're convicted.

The couple, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe (pronounced "Toby"), of Annapolis, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in separate hearings in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia. They were arrested Oct. 9 after the FBI said Jonathan Toebbe placed a digital memory card at a site where he thought a foreign contact would retrieve it.

He waived his right to a detention hearing, said his attorney, Nicholas Compton. "He understands he'll remain incarcerated," Compton said.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble accepted the waiver and ordered Toebbe to remain in jail until the couple’s trial, which is tentatively scheduled to begin Dec. 14.

Diana Toebbe's attorney, Edward MacMahon, argued against detention, saying the FBI had no direct evidence that she knew her husband was intending to pass along classified information to another country. "It's just speculation," he said.

Trumble said he will issue a written ruling later on whether she must be detained or can be released to home confinement with electronic monitoring.

Prosecutors said Jonathan Toebbe, who worked on the Navy's nuclear propulsion program, mailed a package of classified information in April 2020 to representatives of a foreign country, offering to reveal many more secrets in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency.

Officials in that country, which authorities have declined to name, alerted the U.S., and the FBI reached out to him, pretending to be from the country he contacted, according to court documents. Prosecutors said he at first wanted to deal strictly by email but later agreed to store the data on SD cards, which he would leave at designated "dead drop" locations.

Investigators said this year that he concealed the cards in half a peanut butter sandwich, a chewing gum package and a sealed Band-Aid wrapper, making the drops in June, July, August and October. Court documents said the cards included designs for the Navy's Virginia-class submarines — nuclear-powered fast-attack vessels incorporating stealth technology that are able to fire cruise missiles.

At three of the four drop locations, the FBI said, Diana Toebbe stood nearby and acted as a lookout.

FBI Agent Peter Olinits, who worked on the case, said the Toebbes were identified when the FBI saw them return to a car, which was registered to her, at the first dead drop location. They wore clothes for hiking, "dressed to blend in," he said.

Court documents included long excerpts from letters that investigators said Toebbe included on the SD cards. "I must be careful at every step," one said. Another said he had gathered the information slowly and carefully a few pages at a time "over several years in the normal course of my job to avoid attracting attention."

The messages said he would deliver four dozen more packages in return for a total of $5 million in cryptocurrency payments, according to prosecutors. Olinits testified at Wednesday's hearing that Toebbe wrote in his initial mailing that if the first country he contacted did not respond, he would try to send the information to another country.