The Maryland couple accused of trying to sell secrets about US nuclear submarines — using a peanut butter sandwich to hide an SD memory card — were worried about their finances and were furious when Donald Trump was elected, friends and coworkers said.
Navy nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe, 42, and his teacher wife, Diana, 45, were indicted in West Virginia on Tuesday on espionage charges.
The couple is due back in federal court Wednesday for a detention hearing.
Federal prosecutors have not revealed what may have motivated the Toebbes, but two dozen friends and colleagues told the New York Times the couple had stewed over money and US politics within the last decade.
Diana, who is a teacher at the private Key School in Annapolis, Maryland, sometimes complained about her $60,000 salary and once told a student, “I’m not doing this for the money.”
She also seemed “genuinely distraught” when Trump was elected in 2016 and spoke of leaving the US, another student told the outlet.
Toebbe started repeatedly telling friends as far back as 2010 that he needed to “provide for his family.”
He abandoned his Ph.D. studies to join the Navy in 2012 – a move one of his friends said was made to make more money quickly.
The Toebbes, who were arrested by the FBI earlier this month following a yearlong sting operation, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to communicate restricted data and two counts of communication of restricted data.
Toebbe is accused of trying to pass information about the design of submarines to someone he thought was a representative of a foreign government but who was actually an undercover FBI agent.
His wife allegedly accompanied her husband on several instances to pre-arranged “dead-drop” locations at which he left behind memory cards containing sensitive information.
The feds allege that Toebbe sent a package of restricted Navy documents and other materials to an unnamed foreign country in April 2020 with instructions for how to obtain additional information.
Over the next several months, Toebbe and his wife allegedly peddled additional military secrets to the undercover FBI agent in exchange for $100,000 in cryptocurrency.
Toebbe once stashed the data about US submarine nuclear reactors on an SD memory card that he stuffed into a peanut butter sandwich, according to a criminal complaint.
He also allegedly used a Band-Aid wrapper and pack of chewing gum to help hide SD cards at other times.