In 2005, the couple, who had married in Georgia two years earlier, moved to Colorado, after Ms Toebbe completed her doctorate. in Anthropology at Emory University. The two took jobs at the private Kent Denver School.
Two years later, Mr. Toebbe started his own doctorate. program at the Colorado School of Mines. The nuclear physics program there is largely funded by government grants. He directs many of his students to jobs in national laboratories, for work on nuclear weapons or to naval reactors, where they can work on the next generations of nuclear submarines or aircraft carriers.
Mr Toebbe’s initial project, involving work related to nuclear fusion at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, would have taken him to a career in California, working in the laboratory and on nuclear weapons. Colleagues remember him as a diligent student and a powerful presenter who could convey complex ideas to an audience.
But the doctorate. program provided only an annual stipend of $ 20,000. Ms. Toebbe’s teaching salary was also modest. In 2005, they bought a newly built four-bedroom home for $ 268,500 in the Denver suburb of Aurora, with two mortgages covering the full cost.
When the financial crisis hit in 2008, house prices fell sharply. In July 2010, the couple was behind on mortgage payments and the lender filed for foreclosure. The Toebbes were forced to sell at a significant loss.
Around the same time, Mr. Toebbe started talking to friends about his need to support his family and earn more money. While working at the National Lab would ultimately lead to a better-paying career path, the military came up with a faster pay rise. Mr. Toebbe exchanged research projects, moving towards a less promising course of study, but which would take him to the East Coast. And in July 2012, abandoning his doctorate. and contenting himself with a master’s degree, he enlisted in the Navy.
In the summer of 2012, they moved with their young children to Annapolis.
In the Navy, Mr. Toebbe, who reached the rank of lieutenant, worked mainly in the Washington area, mainly on naval reactors, but also made a brief tour of the Pentagon. A key question for prosecutors – and debated by Navy officials – is when Toebbe began collecting the information prosecutors say he ultimately tried to sell.