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Ex-FBI spy hunter sentenced to 2 years for concealing payments from former Albanian intelligence officer

Washington — Charles McGonigal, the former top counterintelligence official at the FBI's New York office, was sentenced to more than two years in prison on Friday for concealing at least $225,000 in cash he received from a former Albanian intelligence officer. 

McGonigal pleaded guilty in September to one count of hiding from the FBI the payments he received from a former employee of Albania's intelligence agency who had moved to New Jersey.

Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence in the FBI's New York office, leaves the federal courthouse in Manhattan on Feb. 9, 2023.
Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence in the FBI's New York office, is seen leaving the federal courthouse in Manhattan on Feb. 9, 2023. Michael M Santiago / Getty Images

In exchange for his guilty plea, charges relating to McGonigal's failure to disclose his overseas travel to meet with foreign government officials and businesspeople while employed by the FBI were dropped.

McGonigal will serve the 28-month sentence consecutively with his other prison term, for a total of 6.5 years in prison. 

In December, McGonigal was sentenced in New York to more than four years in prison for his work for a sanctioned Russian oligarch and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

"Mr. McGonigal seems to have lost his moral compass," Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said Friday. "The motivation could only be greed and frankly, an arrogance."  

The charges in both cases marked a stunning downfall for someone who once held one of the FBI's top counterintelligence posts. 

Prosecutors in Washington argued that McGonigal's actions "suggest he was compromised" and employment after his retirement from the FBI "was not his only motivation."

The FBI was also forced to review numerous investigations of which he had knowledge to determine whether they had been compromised, according to prosecutors. 

"The defendant worked on some of the most sensitive and significant matters handled by the FBI," prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum. "His lack of credibility, as revealed by his conduct underlying his offense of conviction, could jeopardize them all. The resulting internal review has been a large undertaking, requiring an unnecessary expenditure of substantial governmental resources." 

Prosecutor Elizabeth Aloi emphasized those allegations on Friday, saying McGonigal "sold his badge" in a scheme that was "the stuff of lore." 

McGonigal's attorney Seth DuCharme rebutted those claims. 

"This is not the stuff of lore," he said. "This is not the Robert Hanssen case," DuCharme said, referring to a former FBI agent who spied for Moscow. 

McGonigal's lawyer said in court documents that his omissions were "done to conceal the fact that Mr. McGonigal had prematurely launched his business networking plan, including by obtaining a $225,000 loan, in the months before he retired from the FBI."

The start of McGonigal's troubles

McGonigal spent more than two decades at the FBI, working on some of the top national security cases, from stopping a plot to bomb the New York City subway to WikiLeaks' release of a trove of classified documents. He rose through the ranks to become its counterintelligence chief in New York before retiring in 2018. 

His fall from grace began in 2017 as he prepared for retirement, according to court documents. 

McGonigal asked the former Albanian intelligence officer, who had become a naturalized U.S. citizen, for a loan as they discussed business opportunities. The loan was never repaid. The two traveled to Albania and other countries where the individual had business interests and met with foreign nationals on multiple occasions.

On one of those trips, McGonigal met with the prime minister of Albania to warn him against awarding lucrative oil drilling licenses to Russian front companies — a matter in which the former intelligence officer had a financial interest. As a show of appreciation, McGonigal gave the prime minister an FBI hat. 

He then traveled to the Balkans nation of Kosovo for "the dual purpose of collecting information that was potentially useful both to the FBI" and McGonigal's "own undisclosed personal business development plan," prosecutors said. During that trip, he gave another FBI hat to a politician in Kosovo. 

About a month later, in a parked car outside a New York restaurant, the former intelligence officer handed McGonigal about $80,000 in cash as part of the loan he had requested. In 2017, he gave McGonigal two more payments at his home in New Jersey. 

At McGonigal's urging, the bureau opened an investigation into an American lobbyist working for a political opponent of the Albanian prime minister, in which the former intelligence officer served as an FBI source. The investigation was closed shortly after McGonigal retired, "as the allegations were never substantiated," prosecutors said. 

The charges against McGonigal in the New York case also related to the concealment of payments. McGonigal admitted to helping oligarch Oleg Deripaska dig up dirt on a rival Russian oligarch and laundering money by concealing the source of the payments for that work. The work was in violation of U.S. sanctions imposed on Deripaska in 2018.

McGonigal expresses regret

McGonigal asked for mercy in court on Friday, telling the judge he had a "deep sense of remorse and sorrow" for his admitted crimes. 

"I am humbly asking you for a second chance," he said, apologizing to his wife, their two children and his former FBI colleagues. 

In a statement to the judge before Friday's hearing, McGonigal said that his actions "taken for the purpose of making money post-retirement from the FBI overrode my good judgment and values." 

His wife Pamela, in a letter to the federal judges in Washington and New York ahead of his sentencings, said McGonigal "was ambitious and was looking to provide a good life" for his family after his retirement. 

"I believe this ambition led him astray and caused him to lose focus on the reality of his decision making and actions," she wrote. 

McGonigal is set to start his prison sentence on March 18. 

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