MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Maryland couple accused of trying to sell some of America’s most closely guarded nuclear submarine secrets made their first appearance in court since they were arrested over the weekend.
The couple, Jonathan and Diana Toebbe, were accused of selling nuclear propulsion secrets to an undercover F.B.I. officer through a series of dead drops featuring memory cards hidden in peanut butter sandwiches, gum packages and Band-Aid wrappers.
Though they appeared separately on Tuesday, each was charged individually with communication of restricted data and conspiracy to communicate restricted data, charges that could lead to life in prison. Neither of them was asked to enter a plea during their short initial appearances.
The hearing in federal court in Martinsburg, W.Va., for Jonathan Toebbe was over in five minutes. After reviewing an affidavit from Mr. Toebbe listing his finances, the magistrate judge, Robert W. Trumble, said Mr. Toebbe qualified for a court-appointed lawyer and set two hearings: one on Friday for a hearing on his continued detention and a preliminary hearing in the case for next Wednesday.
Mr. Toebbe, wearing a mask to protect against Covid-19, sat in an orange prison jump suit with chain-linked cuffs binding his arms and ankles. A former naval officer, he had a close-cropped military haircut, and responded to the judge in a clear, unwavering voice.
Ms. Toebbe, with short graying hair and a blue surgical mask, was also restrained in chains and wore an orange jumpsuit. She was brought in a few minutes after her husband had left the courtroom. The two were not able to see each another, even in passing in the courtroom.
She was also granted permission for a court-appointed lawyer. The court set similar detention and preliminary hearing dates for her.
As he did with Mr. Toebbe, Judge Trumble told Ms. Toebbe she would have an opportunity to speak with a lawyer before the next hearing on Friday.
Prosecutors declined to comment on the case or the penalties they might seek.
The Justice Department has sought the continued detention of both Jonathan Toebbe, a nuclear propulsion expert who after leaving the military worked for the U.S. Navy as a civilian, and his wife, a history and English teacher, saying they were flight risks because they face life sentences if convicted.
The initial dead drop of information where the F.B.I. first identified the Toebbes took place in West Virginia, which is why the government brought charges there.
The case has sent waves of confusion through Annapolis, Md., where the couple lived with their two school-age children, and the private school where Ms. Toebbe worked.
Friends of Jonathan Toebbe have struggled to square the devoted father and organized scientist they knew with the image presented in court documents of a sloppy amateur spy.
Ms. Toebbe was a teacher and yearbook adviser with a devoted following among students and graduates who admired her fierce feminism and progressive outlook.
Kitty Bennett contributed research.
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