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Would-be spy Hoffman gets 30 years from federal court

A retired sailor from Virginia Beach was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison for trying to pass classified information to Russian spies.

It took a federal jury about 90 minutes in August to convict 40-year-old Robert Patrick Hoffman II of one count of attempted espionage.

According to U.S. District Court testimony, Hoffman, a former petty officer first class and submariner, gave “Top Secret” information to undercover FBI agents posing as Russian intelligence officers.

The FBI opened its investigation into Hoffman in spring 2012 after learning he’d spent three weeks in Belarus the year before. Agents sent Hoffman a letter that purported to be from Moscow. It contained a Soviet medal – the Order of the Red Banner – and sought Hoffman’s “technical expertise.”

Hoffman, who spent most of his 20-year career working as a cryptologic technician, quickly agreed. He traded numerous emails with an FBI agent he thought was a Russian spy named Vladimir and made three trips to First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach to drop off information.

During his last visit, Hoffman left his handler an encrypted flash drive. On it, he offered advice on how the Russians could track American submarines and avoid detection by U.S. warships, according to testimony.

Defense attorneys argued at trial that Hoffman engaged the Russians because he wanted to help the United States catch them – not help them.

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