Charles McGonigal, ex-FBI counterintelligence official, to be sentenced for working with Russian oligarch

Washington — Charles McGonigal, the former top counterintelligence official at the FBI’s New York office, is set to be sentenced Thursday afternoon for accepting secret payments from a sanctioned Russian oligarch and close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

McGonigal pleaded guilty to a federal charge in New York in August to conspiring to violate a law known as the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. He admitted to helping Oleg Deripaska dig up dirt on a rival Russian oligarch and laundering money by concealing the source of the payments for that work. He has also been charged and pleaded guilty in a separate case in Washington.

The Justice Department is seeking a five-year sentence and $200,000 fine for the charge in the New York case, saying McGonigal “betrayed his country and manipulated a sanctions regime vital to its national security.” Such a sentence would be a warning to other former national security officials who may consider “abusing their positions in the service of hostile foreign actors,” the government wrote in a sentencing submission last week.

“It is not an overstatement to say that no one knew better the gravity of McGonigal’s crimes than McGonigal himself,” it said. 

Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence for the FBI's New York office, leaves Manhattan Federal Court on Feb. 9, 2023, in New York City.
Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence in the FBI’s New York office, leaves the federal courthouse in Manhattan on Feb. 9, 2023.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

McGonigal’s lawyers said the former FBI official’s work for Deripaska to get another Russian oligarch sanctioned was “at least in part aligned with U.S. interests.” 

His attorneys asked the federal judge overseeing the case to impose a sentence without additional prison time. They said he “understood that the work he agreed to do was consistent with, not in tension with, U.S. foreign policy in the sense that it was in furtherance of potentially sanctioning another Russian oligarch.” 

McGonigal’s background

McGonigal spent more than two decades at the FBI, rising through the ranks to become its counterintelligence chief in New York before retiring in 2018. He worked 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.

“Mr. McGonigal’s service to the United States has been truly extraordinary, and often at grave personal risk,” his lawyers wrote in their sentencing submission last month.

Before McGonigal retired from the bureau, a former Russian diplomat, who later became a U.S. citizen and interpreter for courts and government offices in New York City, introduced him to an agent of Deripaska, according to the Justice Department. 

Prosecutors said McGonigal had known that Deripaska was associated with a Russian intelligence agency, but continued a relationship with him. Months later, McGonigal received a classified list of oligarchs close to Putin who faced sanctions, prosecutors said.

McGonigal met with Deripaska in London and Vienna after he retired and connected him with a law firm to help get off the U.S. sanctions list, prosecutors said. He was later hired by Deripaska to investigate Vladimir Potanin, a rival oligarch. McGonigal used a subcontractor to locate files about Potanin on the dark web, and was negotiating a $3 million sale of those files when the FBI seized his phone, “effectively ending the scheme” in November 2021, according to prosecutors. 

McGonigal pleaded guilty in the Washington case in September, admitting to concealing his contacts with foreign officials as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars that he accepted from a former employee of Albania’s intelligence agency. 

Prosecutors alleged he misled the FBI by not properly disclosing his overseas travels and contacts with foreign nationals while he was still employed by the bureau. His sentencing in that case is scheduled for Feb. 16. 

McGonigal said in a statement ahead of his sentencing in New York that he has “suffered significantly” as a result of his actions. 

“I have lost credibility with many in the law enforcement and security community with the embarrassment I have caused, and I am truly sorry for this,” he said. 

McGonigal’s wife, Pamela, told the judge in a statement that her husband’s “ambition led him astray and caused him to lose focus on the reality of his decision making and actions.”

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