WASHINGTON (CN) — The former head of counterintelligence at the FBI’s field office in New York pleaded guilty Friday to concealing overseas payments from Eastern European businessmen, including those with ties to elected officials in Albania and Bosnia.
Charles McGonigal spent 22 years working for the FBI, where he led an investigation into a massive security breach that led to the imprisonment, disappearance or execution of CIA informants in China and pleaded guilty in Manhattan to separate charges related to his efforts to help a Russian oligarch with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin get off the U.S. sanctions list.
Federal prosecutors in Washington charged McGonigal with nine counts of concealing material facts, making false statements and falsifying records regarding his overseas contacts and business deals. Agents are required to report any asset greater than $1,000 and any liability greater than $10,000.
McGonigal pleaded guilty to one count for concealing material facts to avoid the eight other charges. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, a Bill Clinton appointee, presided over Friday’s proceedings and scheduled a sentencing hearing for Feb. 16.
McGonigal spoke briefly on Friday, apologizing to the FBI and his family and tried to explain his actions.
He said that he had been planning on setting up a consulting business after his retirement from the FBI in 2018 and wanted to foster future business relationships. He added that he did not disclose his contacts or his financial deals because he did not want his activities to affect his future business.
McGonigal was indicted both in Washington and New York this past January, sending shockwaves throughout the intelligence community as he became one of the most senior FBI officials to be charged with a crime.
The indictments were especially noteworthy considering his lead role in major intelligence investigations into the 2010 release of classified State Department cables by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and a hunt for a suspected Chinese spy working as a mole inside the CIA.
McGonigal's indictment pushed the FBI to determine whether any law enforcement or counterintelligence operations had been compromised by McGonigal’s contacts, with FBI Director Christopher Wray treating the case as a top priority.
According to the Washington indictment, McGonigal befriended Agron Neza, a New Jersey businessman born in Albania and a former employee of an intelligence agency there, with whom he made multiple trips to Albania between 2017 and 2018 to nurture potential business relationships. Neza has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
One such meeting in September 2017 was with Dorian Ducka, a former Albanian official who served as an informal adviser to Prime Minister Edi Rama, where McGonigal warned Rama about awarding oil field drilling licenses to Russian front companies. Prosecutors allege that the warning was meant to redirect that business to benefit Neza and Ducka.
Neza was referred to only as Person A in the indictment, along with four other unnamed individuals, although previous reporting from The New York Times in February identified through public records and interviews with people familiar with the case. Ducka, referred to as Person B, was also identified by the Times.
Apparently, to seal the deal, McGonigal gave Rama an FBI-emblazoned hat. Later on that same trip, he gave another FBI hat to a politician in Kosovo, although the indictment does not include further details as to any deal with the Kosovo politician.
After returning to the United States, Neza met with McGonigal to give him a no-strings-attached loan of $225,000, meeting him three times to hand over large sums of cash. The first meeting was in a parked car outside a restaurant in New York City, where Neza paid him $80,000. The next two meetings took place in Neza’s New Jersey home with another $80,000 installment and a third of $65,000.
McGonigal did not disclose this loan on any of his submissions to the FBI, including one he made just 11 days after receiving the first payment from Neza.
Later in 2017, McGonigal pushed the Justice Department to open an investigation into a U.S. citizen who was lobbying on behalf of Lulzim Basha, a political opponent of Rama’s, after receiving information on the individual from Ducka. The FBI’s field office in New York officially opened the investigation in February 2018 and McGonigal’s request.
Finally, McGonigal met with two unnamed individuals, Person C and D in the indictment, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, to set up a meeting with then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley — who is currently running in the Republican primary — for an unspecified “political purpose that would impact the region.”
In exchange, Person D, an executive of a pharmaceutical company, would pay McGonigal $500,000, through one of Neza’s companies to protect his identity.
According to the indictment in New York, following his retirement from the FBI in 2018, McGonigal began working for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, receiving monthly payments of $25,000 for his help in trying to get Deripaska off the U.S. sanctions list and for setting up a "VIP-style" tour of the NYPD for an employee's daughter. He received another $218,000 from Deripaska, paid through one of Neza's companies.
McGonigal will be sentenced in Manhattan on Dec. 14.Follow @Ryan_Knappy
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.