Former Senior F.B.I. Official in New York Charged With Aiding Oligarch

Prosecutors say Charles McGonigal, who was chief of counterintelligence, worked secretly for Oleg Deripaska to investigate a Russian rival.

A gray-haired man in a blue raincoat walks amid photographers.
Charles McGonigal’s lawyer said his client, who worked on some of the agency’s most sensitive investigations, will plead not guilty.Credit...Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times

A former senior F.B.I. official in New York who oversaw some of the agency’s most secret and sensitive counterintelligence investigations was accused on Monday of taking money from a former Albanian intelligence employee and from a representative of Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch.

The charges against the former official, Charles F. McGonigal, came in separate indictments unsealed in New York and Washington, D.C., after an investigation by his own agency and federal prosecutors. In the New York case, he was charged with violating economic sanctions that the United States has imposed on Russia because of its aggression in Ukraine.

Before he retired in 2018, Mr. McGonigal had been the special agent in charge of the F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division in New York. In that post, he supervised investigations of Russian oligarchs, including Mr. Deripaska, whom the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan charged him with aiding. Mr. Deripaska is an aluminum magnate with ties to President Vladimir V. Putin.

Federal prosecutors said Mr. McGonigal, 54, broke U.S. law by agreeing to help Mr. Deripaska, who was indicted himself last year on sanctions charges, investigate a rival oligarch and try to get off the sanctions list.

The charges are a serious and rare accusation against a senior F.B.I. official, and they demonstrate that the reach of Russia’s oligarchs can extend into the heart of American law enforcement.

“This is an unprecedented case, which rightly or wrongly will fuel political criticism and concern about the F.B.I.,” said Jonathan C. Poling, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s national security division. “The charges demonstrate D.O.J. clearly intends to send a strong message, including to former officials that worked in national security fields.”

The indictment unsealed in Washington charged that Mr. McGonigal, while working for the bureau, took $225,000 in secret cash payments from a person who decades earlier had served with Albanian intelligence. Mr. McGonigal concealed that relationship from the F.B.I., the indictment said.

The indictment also charges that the F.B.I.’s New York office, at Mr. McGonigal’s request, opened a criminal investigation into foreign lobbying in which the former Albanian intelligence employee, who was not named in the indictment, provided information as a confidential informant.

Michael J. Driscoll, the assistant director in charge of the F.B.I.’s New York office, said the bureau was committed to enforcing economic sanctions designed to protect the United States and its allies, saying, “There are no exceptions for anyone, including a former F.B.I. official like Mr. McGonigal.”

He added: “Russian oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska perform global malign influence on behalf of the Kremlin and are associated with acts of bribery, extortion and violence.”

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Oleg Deripaska has himself been charged with violating U.S. sanctions.Credit...Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

In an email to F.B.I. employees, the bureau’s director, Christopher Wray, called the conduct sketched out in court papers “entirely inconsistent with what I see from the men and women of the FBI who demonstrate every day through their actions that they’re worthy of the public’s trust.”

The indictment unsealed on Monday in Federal District Court in Manhattan charges Mr. McGonigal with one count of violating U.S. sanctions, one count of money laundering and two conspiracy counts for what it said were attempts to aid Mr. Deripaska.

Mr. Deripaska was a client of Paul Manafort, who for several months in 2016 served as Donald J. Trump’s campaign chairman and in 2018 was convicted of financial fraud and other crimes.

Mr. McGonigal’s lawyer, Seth D. DuCharme, said his client, who pleaded not guilty in federal court in Manhattan on Monday, would be vindicated.

“Charlie served the United States capably, effectively, for decades,” said Mr. DuCharme. “We have closely reviewed the accusations made by the government and we look forward to receiving discovery so we can get a view on what the evidence is upon which the government intends to rely.”

Mr. McGonigal’s arrest shocked former colleagues. They said he primarily investigated Russian counterintelligence and espionage during his lengthy career. Mr. McGonigal also took on extremely sensitive assignments in the intelligence community, leading an F.B.I. team that investigated why C.I.A. informants in China were being arrested and killed.

Charges against former or current F.B.I. senior executives are rare. In 2018, Andrew G. McCabe, the former acting and deputy director, was referred for prosecution after the Justice Department inspector general accused him of misleading investigators. The case was eventually dropped. In 1996, a senior official was charged with obstruction in connection with a deadly 1992 standoff in a remote section of Idaho called Ruby Ridge.

About two decades earlier, the acting F.B.I. director and his deputy, along with another official in charge of counterintelligence, were indicted on conspiracy charges for organizing break-ins at the homes of political dissidents without warrants. It was the first time an F.B.I. director or former bureau executive had been charged criminally.

The indictment in Manhattan on Monday also charged a second man, Sergey Shestakov, 69, a former Soviet and Russian diplomat who became an American citizen. Mr. Shestakov later worked as an interpreter for the federal courts and U.S. attorney’s offices for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, according to the indictment.

Mr. McGonigal was arrested on Saturday about 2 p.m. at Kennedy International Airport, according to a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, and Mr. Shestakov was arrested about the same time at his home in Morris, Conn.

Mr. Shestakov also pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Bennett M. Epstein, declined to comment.

“As public servants, they should have known better,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District, said of Mr. McGonigal and Mr. Shestakov, adding that his office would continue to prosecute “those who violate U.S. sanctions enacted in response to Russian belligerence in Ukraine in order to line their own pockets.”

Matthew M. Graves, the U.S. attorney in Washington, commended the bureau “for handling the delicate and difficult task” of investigating a former senior official.

Mr. McGonigal served in the F.B.I. for more than two decades, working in Russian counterintelligence, organized crime and counterespionage, according to the Southern District indictment. He had a role in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election led by Robert Mueller III, asking judges to renew wiretaps on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. The agency later conceded the surveillance was not legally justified.

In his final years with the F.B.I., Mr. McGonigal ran the counterintelligence division of the bureau’s New York office before retiring in September 2018. That same year, the Treasury Department’s office of foreign assets control imposed sanctions on Mr. Deripaska.

The indictment says that while Mr. McGonigal was still working for the bureau in 2018, Mr. Shestakov introduced him via email to an employee of Mr. Deripaska. The indictment identifies the employee only as Agent-1 and describes him as a former Soviet and Russian Federation diplomat.

Mr. Shestakov asked Mr. McGonigal to help Agent-1’s daughter obtain an internship with the New York Police Department in counterterrorism, intelligence gathering or “international liaisoning,” according to the indictment.

The indictment says Mr. McGonigal agreed, and he sought help from someone he knew in the department, telling his contact, “I have an interest in her father for a number of reasons.” Mr. McGonigal also told an F.B.I. subordinate that he wanted to recruit Agent-1, whom he described as a Russian intelligence officer, the indictment says.

Through Mr. McGonigal’s efforts, Agent-1’s daughter “received V.I.P. treatment from the N.Y.P.D.,” according to the indictment. A police sergeant assigned to brief the daughter later reported the event to the department and the bureau after Agent-1’s daughter “claimed to have an unusually close relationship to ‘an F.B.I. agent’ who had given her access to confidential F.B.I. files, and it was unusual for a college student to receive such special treatment from the N.Y.P.D. and F.B.I.,” the indictment said.

The New York Police Department declined to comment on the case.

In 2019, the indictment says, Mr. McGonigal and Mr. Shestakov introduced Agent-1 to a law firm in New York. Agent-1 wanted to retain the firm to work to lift the sanctions on Mr. Deripaska.

Mr. Deripaska personally signed an engagement letter with the firm, under which he would pay $175,000 a month, with $25,000 “earmarked” for “certain other professionals,” the indictment says. It adds that the firm retained Mr. McGonigal as a consultant and investigator, and he asked that it compensate him by sending $25,000 to a corporation Mr. Shestakov owned.

In 2021, Agent-1 began negotiating with Mr. McGonigal and Mr. Shestakov to work directly for Mr. Deripaska on a matter that would not be legal under the sanctions, the indictment charges.

The project was to investigate a rival, identified in the indictment only as Oligarch-2, over such issues as his interests in a Russian corporation that the oligarch and Mr. Deripaska were fighting to control, and over hidden assets Oligarch-2 might have outside Russia.

In electronic messages among themselves, the indictment says, the defendants did not refer to Mr. Deripaska by name but rather as “you know whom,” “the client” and “the big guy.”

The indictment against Mr. McGonigal that was unsealed in Washington charged him with one count of concealing material facts, six counts of making false statements and two counts of falsification of records and documents.

It said he requested and received at least $225,000 in cash from the former employee of an Albanian intelligence service, who had business interests in Europe that involved foreign governments.

That indictment says that starting in August 2017 and continuing beyond Mr. McGonigal’s retirement from the F.B.I. the next year, he concealed the nature of his relationship with the former intelligence employee. Mr. McGonigal was also involved in additional conduct “in his official capacity” that “he believed would benefit” the person, Justice Department officials said.

Adam Goldman, Maria Cramer and Brittany Kriegstein contributed reporting.