Wearing orange prison jumpsuits, former U.S. Navy engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana faced a federal judge for the first time on Tuesday, over charges they attempted to sell secrets about nuclear submarines to a foreign power in exchange for cryptocurrency.
The couple briefly appeared at a federal courthouse in Martinsburg, West Virginia, for a formal reading of the criminal charges against them.
The Toebbes, who are from Annapolis, Maryland, were arrested on Saturday in West Virginia, after allegedly placing "militarily sensitive" information on a memory card at a drop site, following what the Justice Department said was a year-long sting operation by undercover FBI agents, and it played out like spy fiction.
It all started when 42-year-old Jonathan Toebbe, a nuclear engineer with top secret security clearance, allegedly sent U.S. Navy documents to an unnamed foreign country in 2020.
But an FBI attaché office in that country was tipped off.
Toebbe then allegedly sold secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as a foreign official over the course of several months.
The DOJ said 45-year-old Diana Toebbe acted as lookout while her husband dropped off the top secret information.
The Justice Department said that, at one point, Toebbe hid a digital memory card containing Navy documents about submarine nuclear reactors in half a peanut butter sandwich at a "dead drop" location in West Virginia.
Another memory card was said to have been concealed in a chewing gum wrapper.
The Justice Department said Toebbe received separate cryptocurrency payments totaling $100,000.
The couple did not speak at Tuesday's hearing other than to briefly answer the judge's questions, indicating they understood their rights.
Both have been charged with conspiracy and "communication of restricted data," and will remain in jail while they await trial.