NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) - The trial of a former Navy sailor charged with attempted espionage began in Norfolk Thursday.
Prosecutors say 39-year-old Robert Patrick Hoffman II of Virginia Beach offered up classified information to people he thought were Russian spies. He's accused of revealing information on how to track U.S. submarines and how the U.S. tracks foreign warships.
Investigators say two years ago Hoffman went on a vacation in Belarus, which borders Russia. After the trip, the FBI instituted a false flag operation to see if Hoffman would attempt to trade classified information. An undercover agent contacted Hoffman on an online dating site and went on two dates with him, during which they discussed Hoffman's trip to Belarus.
For months, FBI agents posing as a Russian intelligence operative named Vladmir corresponded with Hoffman by email. In the emails, prosecutors say Hoffman shared information about his Navy background and his security clearances.
FBI agents also have surveillance video of Hoffman dropping off classified documents in a trash bag and hiding them in a park for Russian operatives to pick up.
The investigation into Hoffman's attempted espionage lasted for several months, and at one point, Hoffman went to the Norfolk FBI office and confessed his communication with Russian spies. Hoffman's lawyer say that move proves he was trying to set up the Russian spies to turn them in to the FBI.
Would-be jurors for the case say they are excited to be included in a case of this nature.
"It's kind of like stuff you see in the movies," said dismissed juror candidate Joshua Yuher. "I never thought I'd see this in real life. I was kind of excited to be a juror for it."
"I've got other things to do, so it's not going to bother me, but I was kind of looking forward to being back in court," said dismissed juror candidate Willard Snell.
Hoffman's trial will resume Friday under U.S. Magistrate Judge Tommy Miller. Miller anticipates the trial to last approximately nine days.
If convicted of attempted espionage, Hoffman could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
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