Cash, shredded papers seen in spy box at couple’s home

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WASHINGTON – The FBI found a trash bag containing torn documents, thousands of dollars in cash, latex gloves and a “go-bag” when searching the home of a Maryland couple accused of selling 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 tried to leak secrets about elaborate and expensive Virginia-class submarines to someone he believed was a foreign government official but who was actually an undercover FBI agent. The government accuses Diana Toebbe of having served as a lookout for her husband at several “dead drop” locations where sensitive information has been left behind.

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The couple pleaded not guilty in federal court in Martinsburg, West Virginia, on espionage charges that resulted in life imprisonment. The Toebbes have been in jail since their arrest.

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

Peter Olinits, a Pittsburgh-based agent specializing in counter-espionage investigations, testified to support the government’s argument that Diana Toebbe poses a potential risk of escape and should remain in jail during the trial.

He described how agents found $ 11,300 in cash, valid passports for children and a “go-bag” with a USB stick and latex gloves in their home on the day the couple was arrested.

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Olinits also cited messages from 2019 and 2020 in which the Toebbes discussed leaving the country, including one in which Diana Toebbe said, “I can’t believe that neither of us would be welcomed and rewarded by a foreign government. ” Months later, in another message, she said: “I think we need to actively make plans to leave the country,” Olinits said.

However, Diana Toebbe’s attorney Edward MacMahon has raised the possibility that his 45-year-old client, who worked as a teacher at an advanced private school in Annapolis, Maryland, was simply referring to their dismay at the prospect of President Donald’s re-election Trump related.

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

The investigation began in late 2020 after an FBI attorney attaché in an unspecified country received a package that prosecutors said Jonathan Toebbe had sent to that nation. In a letter, according to prosecutors, he offered to sell confidential information from the US Navy.

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The letter, posted April 1, 2020, with a return address in Pittsburgh, stated, “If you can testify me by the 31st ‘.

Upon receiving the letter, the FBI began using an undercover agent to communicate with Jonathan Toebbe and arranged for the information to be deposited 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 would dress like tourists or hikers and stroll around the drop site. Authorities say Jonathan Toebbe left memory cards with government secrets at the sites and hidden them in items such as a chewing gum wrap, plaster wrap and a peanut butter sandwich.

Olinits said the FBI was unable to trace the roughly $ 100,000 cryptocurrency payments the office sent to the Toebbes in exchange for the stolen government secrets, and that agents have not yet recovered all of the classified documents.

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MacMahon, Diana Toebbe’s attorney, argued that the agents had no evidence that his client knew about her husband’s activities or his exact activities because the FBI did not record any of the couple’s conversations.

He said the couple, who have kids, were planning a family outing, which might explain the bag, the agents found, and why their passports were renewed. And he suggested that Diana Toebbe, who has a PhD in anthropology, had no knowledge of nuclear submarines.

“In the course of your investigation, did you notice that Mr. Toebbe may have told her he was up to something other than espionage against the United States?” Asked MacMahon.

“I think that would be hard to sell, but maybe,” said Olinits.

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Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in any way without permission.

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