Crime and Courts

Retired FBI agent expected to plead guilty for working with Russian oligarch

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The FBI’s former top counterintelligence investigator in New York arrested and charged in January with working for a Russian oligarch is now expected to change his not guilty plea to the charges filed against him by federal prosecutors, according to a an order filed by the court.

Former FBI Special Agent in Charge of Counterintelligence Charles McGonigal pleaded not guilty following his arrest. A judge’s order says, “the Court has been informed that Defendant Charles McGonigal may wish to enter a change of plea” and has scheduled that change of plea proceeding for August 15 at 12:15pm in federal court in New York.

NBC News has reached out to McGonigal’s attorney for comment. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to confirm a guilty plea or comment.

Federal prosecutors say McGonigal laundered money, violated sanctions against Russia while working with a Russian oligarch and while still at the FBI took hundreds of thousands of dollars from a foreign national and former foreign intelligence official.

McGonigal, 55, was arrested in January after arriving at JFK airport in New York on a flight from the Middle East.

Federal prosecutors in New York allege that after his 2018 retirement from the FBI, McGonigal worked with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Deripaska associate Sergey Shestakov, and a third person to investigate a rival Russian oligarch in return for payments from Deripaska.

According to prosecutors, McGonigal, Shestakov and the third person tried to conceal Deripaska’s involvement through shell companies, forged signatures and other means.

A separate case filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., alleges that while serving as special agent in charge of FBI counterintelligence efforts in the New York office, McGonigal took $225,000 in cash from an individual with business interests in Europe who had been an employee of a foreign intelligence service.

From August 2017 through his retirement in September 2018, McGonigal allegedly concealed his relationship with this former foreign security officer from the FBI. He allegedly requested and received cash from the individual and traveled abroad with the individual.

A former FBI intelligence official based in New York was arrested after allegedly violating Russia violations and taking money from a foreign national while at the bureau. NBC New York's Jonathan Dienst reports.

There is currently no change of plea hearing requested in the D.C. case, only for the charges pertaining to New York's investigation.

Prior to his plea in January, Seth DuCharme, McGonigal’s attorney, said, “Charlie served the U.S. effectively for decades. We look forward to seeing the evidence.”

The Treasury Department has sanctioned Deripaska for "having acted or purported to act on behalf of, directly or indirectly, a senior official of the Government of the Russian Federation and for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy," according to the Justice Department. In 2022, federal prosecutors in New York charged Deripaska with violating sanctions.

Given McGonigal’s ties to the Washington and New York area offices of the FBI, the Los Angeles field office led the two-year-long investigation, three senior law enforcement officials said. The decision to move the probe to Los Angeles was to ensure there were no conflicts of interest or competing interests among agents who may have known McGonigal.

In a statement following his arrest, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau was committed to holding accountable anyone who violated the law, including its own employees.

“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,” Wray said. “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.”

McGonigal joined the FBI in 1996, and was first assigned to the New York Field Office, where he worked on Russian foreign counterintelligence and organized crime.

During his tenure in New York, he worked on the TWA Flight 800 investigation, was assigned to the task force investigating scientist Wen Ho Lee, investigated the 1998 terrorist bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

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