(NEW YORK) — One of the highest-ranking FBI agents to ever face criminal charges is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday.
Charles McGonigal, a former counterintelligence leader in the FBI’s New York field office, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and has asked for no prison time.
The former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York deserves five years in prison, federal prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum after accusing him of abusing the skills and influence his country entrusted him with by secretly working for a sanctioned Russian oligarch.
He served as the special agent in charge of the Counterintelligence Division of the FBI’s New York field office. In that position, McGonigal supervised and participated in investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Oleg Deripaska, to whom he provided impermissible services.
“McGonigal knew full well that Deripaska was sanctioned,” prosecutors said in their sentencing memorandum. “McGonigal also cannot claim that he was unaware that he was selling his services to a scoundrel working against America’s interests.”
Despite that knowledge, they said McGonigal sought to gather derogatory information about a rival oligarch, Vladimir Potanin, and Potanin’s interest in a corporation that he and Deripaska were vying to control.
Prosecutors cast it as a serious crime that deserves a serious punishment.
“Although the first task Deripaska assigned his new recruit may not have appeared particularly nefarious, McGonigal was hoping to do millions of dollars in future work for the oligarch,” prosecutors said.
“McGonigal was selling something just as useful to America’s enemies as military grade technology: The ‘erosion … in any rule of law’ that ensues when a nation’s counterintelligence professionals begin ‘operating at the behest of the highest bidder,’ to use McGonigal’s description of his own crimes,” prosecutors said.
In a letter to the court earlier this month, McGonigal’s attorneys said he deserved no prison time for conspiring to help a sanctioned Russian oligarch.
Defense attorneys urged the judge to balance McGonigal’s “extraordinary service” to the country during his 22-year career in law enforcement and counterintelligence. The defense argued “a non-custodial sentence is sufficient to serve the ends of justice.”
“[J]ust punishment may be imposed upon Mr. McGonigal without the need for a lengthy term of incarceration. His fall from grace has been precipitous, having lost his job, his reputation and the peace of his family life,” defense attorney Seth DuCharme said.
McGonigal faces sentencing early next year in a separate case brought in Washington, D.C. that accused him of concealing a payment from an Albanian intelligence official while on the job.
In a pre-sentencing memorandum, defense attorneys conceded McGonigal provided impermissible services to Deripaska but argued the information McGonigal provided to Deripaska about a rival oligarch aligned with the interests of the United States.
“It was wrong, and he admits that. But it is critically important that the Court appreciate, in imposing a just punishment, that Mr. McGonigal understood that the work he agreed to do was consistent with, not in tension with, U.S. foreign policy in the sense that it was in furtherance of potentially sanctioning another Russian oligarch,” DuCharme said.
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