Charles McGonigal, ex-FBI official, pleads guilty to concealing $225,000 in payments

Washington — Charles McGonigal, a former top counterintelligence official at the FBI, pleaded guilty Friday to concealing his contacts with foreign officials and hundreds of thousands of dollars that he accepted from a former employee of a foreign intelligence service.

McGonigal, 55, was charged by federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., with concealing $225,000 in cash that he received from a former employee of Albania’s intelligence agency. Prosecutors alleged he also misled the FBI by not properly disclosing his overseas travels and contacts with foreign nationals while he was still employed by the bureau.

He pleaded guilty to a single count of concealment of material facts on Friday. He faces up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. The judge scheduled a sentencing hearing for Feb. 16, 2024. In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to ask the judge to dismiss eight other counts included in the original indictment.

McGonigal pleaded guilty last month to separate charges in New York related to his work for a Russian oligarch.

The case against McGonigal

Former FBI official Charles McGonigal arrives at Manhattan Federal Court in New York on Feb. 9, 2023.
File: Former FBI official Charles McGonigal arrives at Manhattan Federal Court in New York on Feb. 9, 2023.YUKI IWAMURA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Before he retired in 2018, McGonigal served as the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in New York and formed a relationship with the former Albanian intelligence employee who had become a naturalized U.S. citizen, according to the indictment. The two traveled to Albania and other countries where the individual had business interests and met with foreign nationals on multiple occasions, prosecutors said.

On one of the trips, according to the statement of facts to which McGonigal admitted on Friday, he met with the prime minister of Albania, one of his advisers and a Kosovar politician and failed to report those meetings.

During his meeting with Albania’s prime minister, McGonigal allegedly urged him to avoid awarding oil drilling licenses to Russian front companies, according to the plea agreement.  Prosecutors said both the former intelligence employee and the prime minister’s adviser had a financial interest in Albania’s decisions about the contracts.

McGonigal also admitted that he flagged to the Justice Department a U.S. citizen’s foreign lobbying work on behalf of a political opponent of the Albanian prime minister. The FBI later opened an investigation into that person based on information McGonigal received from his Albanian contacts and the prime minister’s allies.

The individual with whom McGonigal traveled overseas “later served as an FBI source in a criminal investigation involving foreign political lobbying over which McGonigal had official supervisory responsibility,” prosecutors noted in a release Friday.

As an employee of the FBI, McGonigal was required to disclose his contacts with foreign nationals and overseas travel.

Speaking in court on Friday, McGonigal told U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that the money from his Albanian contact was a loan to start a consulting firm after he retired from the FBI, which he admitted he should not have accepted.

“I did not disclose these facts to the FBI,” he admitted in court, characterizing his conduct as “inappropriate.”

“I want to apologize to the FBI,” McGonigal said Friday. “This is not a situation I wanted to be in or put them through.”

Seth Ducharme, a top Justice Department official in the Trump administration who now represents McGonigal in the case, said outside court on Friday that his client now recognizes that “there needs to be a clear separation and a break” between official work on behalf of the U.S. government and personal work in preparation for retirement.

In the New York case, prosecutors alleged McGonigal was on the payroll of Oleg Deripaska, whom he investigated in his role as the special agent in charge of the counterintelligence division in the FBI’s New York Field Office. Deripaska has been sanctioned by the U.S. since 2018, making it illegal to do any business with him.

After McGonigal retired from the FBI, prosecutors alleged he and a former Russian diplomat-turned-interpreter for U.S. courts worked unsuccessfully on Deripaska’s behalf to get sanctions against him lifted. The pair also investigated a rival Russian oligarch for Deripaska and hid the source of Deripaska’s payments.

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