Former top FBI official Charles McGonigal sentenced to 50 months in prison for scheme to violate sanctions with Russian oligarch

 December 15, 2023

A former senior FBI official will soon be serving several years in federal prison following an earlier conviction for violating U.S. sanctions against a Russian oligarch to enrich himself.

Charles McGonigal, who previously led the FBI's counterintelligence division in New York, was sentenced to more than four years in prison on Thursday, according to The Hill.

He had pleaded guilty in August to violating U.S. sanctions by accepting concealed payments from sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in exchange for using his federal law enforcement connections and expertise to dig up dirt on one of Deripaska's chief rivals.

More than four years in prison

The Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge Jennifer H. Rearden sentenced McGonigal on Thursday to serve 50 months in prison, or four years plus two months, in addition to levying a $40,000 fine and an order for the ex-FBI agent to forfeit $17,500 he had received from the sanctioned Russian oligarch.

McGonigal's defense attorney attempted to downplay the severity of his crime by contrasting it with the important work he did for decades as a top FBI agent and asked the court to refrain from sentencing his client to any time in prison at all.

However, prosecutors countered by pointing out the "greed" and potentially substantial sums of money up for grabs in McGonigal's scheme to violate U.S. sanctions against Deripaska and suggested that his recent criminal behavior overshadowed anything positive he did previously with the FBI, and requested that he be sentenced to the maximum five years in prison.

For his part, McGonigal told the judge he had a "deep sense of remorse and am sorry for my actions," and further stated to the court, "I recognize more than ever that I’ve betrayed the confidence and trust of those close to me. For the rest of my life, I will be fighting to regain that trust."

Busted by the FBI agents who used to work under him

What is particularly ironic in this case, according to a Justice Department press release, is that McGonigal, in his prior role as Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's counterintelligence division in New York, was tasked with investigating Russian oligarchs like Deripaska for alleged violations of U.S. economic sanctions.

Yet, following his retirement, the former FBI agent developed a relationship with the former subject of his investigations and agreed to investigate one of Deripaska's rivals in exchange for payment, the origin of which was concealed through shell companies and forged signatures that kept the Russian oligarch beyond arm's length and out of the picture.

Per that press release, McGonigal "hoped to do millions of dollars in business with Deripaska, but FBI agents from the same division McGonigal used to lead foiled his scheme after only a few months of operation."

"Charles McGonigal violated the trust his country placed in him by using his high-level position at the FBI to prepare for his future in business," New York U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said. "Once he left public service, he jeopardized our national security by providing services to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian tycoon who acts as Vladimir Putin’s agent. Today’s sentence is a reminder that anyone who violates United States sanctions -- particularly those in whom this country has placed its trust -- will pay a heavy penalty."

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Graves of the DOJ's National Security Division said McGonigal "helped advance the interests of a sanctioned Russian oligarch, breaking his oath to safeguard our nation and uphold its laws," and added that the sentence "holds him accountable for this betrayal and demonstrate this department’s commitment to deny designated individuals the means to circumvent U.S. sanctions."

Also facing sentencing for separate crime he pleaded guilty to

According to the AP, McGonigal is also facing separate trouble and likely prison time in a Washington D.C. case after he previously pleaded guilty to concealing his acceptance of $225,000 from a former Albanian intelligence official while he was still employed by the FBI.

He is supposed to face sentencing in that case on February 16, and just 10 days later is scheduled to report to prison on February 26 to begin serving his sentence in the sanctions violation case.

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