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Ex-FBI counterspy chief McGonigal set to plead guilty in payment plot

The FBI’s former top spy hunter in New York, who last month pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions and launder funds for a Russian billionaire he once investigated, is set to plead guilty Friday in a separate case alleging he hid secret cash payments while overseeing highly sensitive cases.

A plea hearing for Charles F. McGonigal, 55, was set for 2 p.m. Friday before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington, according to court records, after plea talks with federal prosecutors.

Terms of a deal were not immediately disclosed and are not final until accepted by a judge. McGonigal faced two federal counts of falsifying records or documents, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and seven counts of concealing material facts or making false statements, which each carry up to five years in prison. He could potentially plead guilty to one of the lesser counts.

McGonigal attorney Seth DuCharme and a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia did not respond to requests for comment ahead of the hearing.

As special agent in charge of the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York from 2016 to 2018, McGonigal supervised investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. McGonigal retired from the FBI in September 2018. He was indicted by federal authorities in January in two separate cases that shook the U.S. counterintelligence community, exposing the vulnerability to corruption of those who keep the nation’s sensitive government secrets.

McGonigal pleaded guilty last month in Manhattan to receiving $17,500 for secretly working for several months in 2021 on behalf of Deripaska to help get the billionaire removed from the U.S. sanctions list and to dig up dirt on a rival Russian oligarch. The 22-year FBI veteran admitted receiving what he knew were illegal payments from a Cyprus bank filtered through a New Jersey company for work as a consultant and investigator.

Deripaska was barred from doing business with U.S. entities after the Russia occupation of Crimea, but McGonigal negotiated for $25,000 monthly payments to be sent to an account controlled by Sergey Shestakov, an interpreter for the U.S. government who was a former Russian diplomat, according to his indictment. McGonigal pleaded guilty to one of four counts against him, a conspiracy charge punishable by up to five years in prison. Shestakov has pleaded not guilty and faces trial in June before U.S. District Judge Jennifer H. Rearden in Manhattan.

As an FBI agent, McGonigal had investigated Deripaska, whose own indictment on sanctions-violation charges was unsealed last September.

A second indictment, filed in Washington, accused McGonigal of hiding payments totaling $225,000 that he allegedly received from “Person A,” described in charging papers as a New Jersey man employed decades ago by an Albanian intelligence agency, and who The Post has reported is Agron Neza. The indictment also accused McGonigal of acting to advance Person A’s interests from at least August 2017 and continuing after his retirement from the FBI, while failing to disclose the relationship, as well as an “ongoing relationship with the Prime Minister of Albania,” Edi Rama.

According to the indictment, McGonigal received $225,000 in cash from Person A in late 2017.

Months later, the FBI at McGonigal’s urging opened an investigation into an American lobbyist for the main opposition political party to Rama in Albania, a probe that used Person A as a source of information, prosecutors alleged.

In a separate trip to Austria in 2017, McGonigal and a Justice Department prosecutor interviewed an Albanian politician to whom McGonigal had been introduced by Person A, and who wanted someone to investigate a death threat, the indictment charged.

The following year, McGonigal allegedly asked the FBI’s liaison to the United Nations to arrange a meeting with the then-U.S. ambassador, Nikki Haley, or another high-ranking official, as well as a former Bosnian defense minister and founder of a Bosnian pharmaceutical company. The indictment said the meeting would have benefited Person A, and at the time McGonigal suggested the pharmaceutical company pay half a million dollars to a company registered to Person A for arranging the meeting.

One of the most senior FBI officials ever to be charged with a crime, McGonigal led major intelligence investigations, including into the 2010 release of classified State Department cables to WikiLeaks and the hunt for a suspected spy for China inside the CIA. He had access to an extraordinary amount of sensitive information, including investigations of foreign spies or U.S. citizens suspected of working on behalf of foreign governments, and foreigners whom the FBI and the CIA were recruiting to spy for the United States.

In his New York plea hearing, McGonigal said, “I understood what my actions have resulted in, and I am deeply remorseful for it.” Facing sentencing in that case Dec. 14, McGonigal said, “I appear before you in this court to take full responsibility as my actions never intended to hurt the United States, the FBI and my family and friends.”

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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