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Charles McGonigal, ex-FBI official who worked for sanctioned Russian oligarch, pleads guilty

WashingtonCharles McGonigal, the former top FBI counterintelligence official in New York, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal charge stemming from his work for a sanctioned Russian oligarch and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In January, federal prosecutors in New York indicted McGonigal on five counts of violating U.S. sanctions, money laundering, conspiracy and making false statements. Prosecutors alleged he 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.

McGonigal initially contested the charges but changed his stance on Tuesday, pleading guilty to one count of conspiring to violate a law known as the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and to launder money. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. McGonigal must also forfeit $17,500 under the terms of the plea agreement.

"After his tenure as a high-level FBI official who supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, Charles McGonigal has now admitted that he agreed to evade U.S. sanctions by providing services to one of those oligarchs, Oleg Deripaska," said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan. "This Office will continue to hold to account those who violate U.S. sanctions for their own financial benefit."

Former FBI official Charles McGonigal arrives at Manhattan Federal Court in New York on Feb. 9, 2023.
Former FBI official Charles McGonigal arrives at Manhattan Federal Court in New York on Feb. 9, 2023. YUKI IWAMURA/AFP via Getty Images

In exchange for his guilty plea, the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York will seek to dismiss the other charges included in the original indictment and could recommend a slightly more lenient sentence if McGonigal "clearly demonstrates acceptance of responsibility" before sentencing.

After McGonigal retired from the FBI in 2018, 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 hide the source of Deripaska's payments.

They "attempted to conceal Deripaska's involvement by, among other means, not directly naming Deripaska in electronic communications, using shell companies as counterparties in the contract that outlined the services to be performed, using a forged signature on that contract, and using the same shell companies to send and receive payment from Deripaska," the Justice Department said Tuesday.

McGonigal admitted to investigating the rival and trying to hide the payments in a criminal information filed with his guilty plea on Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors also said in the original indictment that while McGonigal was still at the FBI he helped arrange an internship for the daughter of an alleged Russian intelligence officer, who worked for Deripaska, with the New York City Police Department.

After McGonigal was indicted, FBI Director Christopher Wray defended the bureau from criticism about its credibility. During his 22-year career at the FBI, McGonigal investigated Russian counterintelligence and espionage operations, and the allegations raised questions about whether any FBI investigations had been jeopardized. 

"The way we maintain the trust and confidence of the American people is through our work — showing, when all the facts come out, that we stuck to the process and we treated everyone equally, even when it is one of our own," he said in a Jan. 23 statement. "The FBI will go to great lengths to investigate and hold accountable anyone who violates the law, including when the individual is an FBI employee." 

Seth DuCharme, an attorney for McGonigal and a former Justice Department official, said after the indictment that McGonigal had a "long, distinguished career with the FBI."

He has also been charged in a separate case in Washington, D.C., with concealing $225,000 he allegedly received from a former Albanian intelligence employee and misleading the FBI about his contacts with foreign nationals and travel while he was still employed by the bureau. 

McGonigal still maintains his not guilty plea in that case. 

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