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Legal Report: U.S. Nuclear Engineer Pleads Guilty

Judicial Decisions

Espionage. A U.S. nuclear engineer and his wife pled guilty to conspiring to communicate restricted data related to designs for nuclear-powered warships to a foreign country.

As part of the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, employee Jonathan Toebbe, 43, had an active national security clearance to access restricted data, including information on the design, manufacture, and use of atomic weapons; development of special nuclear material; or use of such nuclear materials in energy production, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).



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Toebbe said that over the course of several years, he slowly collected the information and smuggled it from his secure workplace a few pages at a time in tandem with his normal duties to avoid suspicion. Although he could not promise additional classified information, he did also offer his expertise in going through the data, according to court documents.

Toebbe, with voluntary help from his wife, Diana, 46, sent a sample of classified data in a postmarked package about U.S. naval nuclear propulsion to a foreign government, as well as information on how to buy additional confidential data from him. Toebbe said he believed he was emailing a foreign agent—he was instead unwittingly communicating with an undercover FBI agent, to whom he agreed to sell additional sensitive information.

While Diana worked as a lookout, on multiple occasions Toebbe left an SD card at a “dead drop”—a term describing a previously agreed hiding place for materials so they may be dropped off and picked up without the two parties meeting. The SD cards were left at dead drops in West Virginia and Virginia, using different items to camouflage them including a peanut butter sandwich, another inside a sealed bandage wrapper, and a third in a pack of chewing gum. The SD cards were later retrieved by the FBI agent; the Bureau paid at least $100,000 in cryptocurrency for the data and its decryption. Agents arrested the Toebbes in October 2021, after the third dead drop.

As part of the plea agreement, Diana will serve up to 36 months in federal prison while Toebbe will serve at least 151 months in federal prison. (United States v. Jonathan Toebbe, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, No. 3:21-cr-49-001, 2022) (United States v. Diana Toebbe, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, No. 3:21-cr-49-002, 2022)

Domestic extremism. A former member of the U.S. Air Force pled guilty to murder and attempted murder for his involvement in a 2020 drive-by shooting in Oakland, California, as part of the extremist anti-government group the Boogaloo Boys.

Steven Carrillo, 33, confessed that he joined the Boogaloo movement with the intent of doling out violence against U.S. federal law enforcement officers, according to the DOJ.



Carrillo and another person drove to a protest outside the Ronald V. Dellums Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Oakland. After surveilling the area, Carrillo opened the sliding door of the vehicle he was inside of and fired roughly 19 rounds at security personnel—killing one federal officer and wounding a security contractor.

As part of the plea deal, the U.S. government will not seek the death penalty. Carrillo is scheduled to be sentenced on 6 June and faces up to 41 years in prison. (United States v. Steven Carrillo, et al., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 20-cr-265-YGR, 2022)

Vaccination mandate. A U.S. federal appeals court’s injunction effectively blocked the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, further delaying its efforts to require vaccinations or regular tests of federal employees.

Seven U.S. states, governors, and agencies filed a civil lawsuit against the U.S. federal government, claiming that the Biden administration overreached when it issued a mandate under the U.S. Federal Property and Administrative Services Act requiring federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to regular testing. The suit argued that the administration’s mandate lacks necessary Congressional authorization.



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A Georgia court initially ruled that the mandate failed to include workplace safety provisions and could not be implemented. The U.S. federal government appealed, and the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction as the case continues to proceed in court. (Georgia et al. v. Joseph R. Biden, et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, No. 21-cv-163, 2022)

Liability. Johnson & Johnson and three U.S. drug distributors have tentatively agreed to pay nearly $600 million to 400 Native American tribes in the United States to settle allegations about the companies’ responsibility for the opioid epidemic.

AmerisourceBergen Corp., Cardinal Health, Inc, and McKesson Corp. will pay more than $439 million during the next seven years, according to the proposed settlement—which does not include a separate previous settlement with the Cherokee Nation. The settlement also proposed that Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen pay $150 million during a two-year period.



The tribal sovereign governments have yet to agree to the terms of the settlement, according to the tribes’ attorneys. If accepted, the settlement would operate as initial and partial settlements while tribal opioid claims against other defendants move forward in a multi-district litigation.

Native Americans incurred the highest per capita rate of opioid overdoses. Tribal populations were subject to the worst consequences of this epidemic in the United States—including the highest drug overdose death rates in 2015 and largest increase in deaths between 1999 and 2015 compared to other minority groups, according to the settlement documents. (In Re: National Prescription Opiate Litigation, All MDL Tribal Cases, U.S. District Court for Northern District of Ohio, No. 17-md-02804, 2022)

Legislation

United States

Sexual assault. U.S. President Joe Biden signed into law the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (P.L. 117-90). The new law, which amends the Federal Arbitration Act, allows victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment to pursue a lawsuit against an employer in court.

Previously, pre-dispute arbitration agreements denied employees the ability to file a suit involving sexual assault or sexual harassment; instead, victims were forced to participate in in-house arbitration processes. Now, victims can elect whether to pursue the claim through arbitration or in the courts.

The law applies solely to instances including a claim involving sexual harassment or assault filed after the law was enacted.

Regulations

Greece

Coronavirus. Greece levied a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for people older than 60; those who refuse will be fined.

Those who fail to get vaccinated will be initially fined €50 ($55), with subsequent fines of €100 ($110) for every month the person continues to refuse a vaccination.

United States

Workplace hazards. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined a Texas lumber company $389,706 for violating control procedures that led to the death of a sawmill worker.



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An 86-year-old worker at a sawmill and pallet manufacturing facility fell from a stack of pallets while working at W.D. Townley and Son Lumber Company and died from his injuries. A subsequent OSHA investigation into his death found that the company lacked a hearing conservation program, violated requirements for machine guarding, and committed other “serious violations,” according to OSHA.

South Korea 

Liability. The South Korean government enacted new legislation that increases punishments for CEOs and corporate managers found liable for workplace accidents. 

The Serious Accident Punishment Act introduces penalties of up to one year in prison or fines of up to 1 billion South Korean won ($835,000) for managers found responsible for an incident that causes significant injuries or death, including in cases of negligence or poor management. The executive and manager’s employer can also be held liable and fined up to 5 billion won ($4 million).  

The new law also requires businesses to establish safety and health management protocols. Construction firms in the top 200 of a construction ability assessment and companies that employ more than 500 full-time employees are also required to create a safety and health control working unit. 

The law applies to workplaces with more than 49 employees; sites with fewer than 50 employees will be subject to the law on 27 January 2024. Workplaces with fewer than five employees are exempt from the law.  

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