Former FBI agent gets over four years in prison for aiding Russian oligarch

By Isaac M December 15, 2023

A former top officer with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been sentenced to over four years in prison for working for a Russian oligarch, violating US-imposed sanctions.

Charles McGonigal, 55, was sentenced by the Manhattan Federal Court to four years and two months in prison after he pleaded guilty in August to one count of conspiring to launder money.

Judge Jennifer H Rearden said McGonigal harmed national security by repeatedly flouting sanctions that were placed on Russia to put economic pressure on Moscow amid its war against Ukraine.

McGonigal – who led the counterintelligence division of the FBI’s New York field office from 2016 through his retirement in 2018 – was also fined $40,000 (£31,354 ) and ordered to forfeit $17,500 (£13,717).

He admitted to working for Oleg Deripaska between the spring and autumn of 2021 to find negative information on rival Russian oligarch Vladimir Potanin.

Mr Deripaska, known as Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “henchman”, has been under US sanctions since 2018 for reasons related to Moscow’s occupation of Crimea.

Judge Rearden imposed the sentence after a prosecutor cast McGonigal’s crime as a greedy money-grab that leveraged the knowledge he gained in his FBI career to cozy up to the oligarch.

McGonigal told the judge in a sometimes shaky voice that he had a “deep sense of remorse and am sorry for my actions”.

“I recognise more than ever that I’ve betrayed the confidence and trust of those close to me,” he said, adding: “For the rest of my life, I will be fighting to regain that trust.”

Federal prosecutors previously urged the judge to sentence McGonigal to five years in prison — the maximum allowable for the one count of conspiracy to violate sanctions to which he pleaded guilty.

Prosecutors argued that McGonigal was also trying to help Mr Deripaska get off the sanctions list and was in negotiations along with co-conspirators to receive a fee of $650,000 (£39,200) to $3m (£2.35m) to hunt for electronic files revealing hidden assets of $500m (£392m) belonging to the oligarch’s business rival.

“McGonigal abused the skills and influence his country entrusted him with by secretly working for the very threats he had previously protected it against,” prosecutors wrote in a 7 December filing.

“No one knew better the gravity of McGonigal’s crimes than McGonigal himself.”

McGonigal’s lawyers said he should be spared prison time, arguing he had accepted responsibility and had already lost his job. They also said he thought his work for Mr Deripaska was “consistent” with US foreign policy because it was in furtherance of potentially sanctioning Mr Potanin.

The former officer separately pleaded guilty to a federal charge in Washington of concealing $225,000 (£176,403) in cash payments from a former Albanian intelligence officer. He is scheduled to be sentenced on those charges in February 2024.

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