New York

Former F.B.I. Spy Hunter Pleads Guilty to Concealing Overseas Dealings

A former top F.B.I. spy hunter pleaded guilty on Friday in Federal District Court in Washington to concealing payments he received from an Albanian-born businessman — a former intelligence agent he had helped in business dealings overseas.

The official, Charles F. McGonigal, the F.B.I.’s former director of counterintelligence in New York, had been the bureau’s highest-ranking official to be accused of corruption in recent years.

His plea marked the second time in as many months that Mr. McGonigal admitted to criminal wrongdoing. On Aug. 15, he pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions and to laundering payments from a prominent Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska.

He pleaded guilty to a single count of hiding from the F.B.I. the payments he received from Agron Neza, a former Albanian intelligence officer who had moved to New Jersey. As in the New York case, the plea deal between Mr. McGonigal and the prosecutors in Washington resulted in reduced charges.

The Washington prosecutors agreed to drop eight of the nine counts originally lodged against him at the time of sentencing, most of which had carried a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. But under the deal unveiled Friday, Mr. McGonigal was required to acknowledge that he had in fact committed the broader acts he had been accused of — even those to which he did not plead guilty.

In court on Friday, Mr. McGonigal told Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that before he left the F.B.I. in 2018, he had started planning the launch of a security consulting company that would leverage the contacts he had made at the bureau after his retirement. He said he knew he should have disclosed payments he received and meetings he held in planning the company, but he did not do so for fear of raising questions at the F.B.I. that might interfere with his future venture.

Mr. McGonigal’s maximum sentence under each of his plea agreements is five years in prison; the judges in both cases could sentence him to less time and order that they be served concurrently.

The plea on Friday brought an effective close to a scandal that had embarrassed the F.B.I. and shocked many in the bureau who had worked with the seemingly strait-laced supervisor for years. F.B.I. officials have said they found no evidence that Mr. McGonigal had leaked information to foreign officials or otherwise compromised bureau activities or national security.

Mr. McGonigal, 55, had been indicted in New York and Washington in January. The Washington case was primarily related to Mr. McGonigal’s interactions with overseas interests. According to prosecutors, he had failed to truthfully disclose, as he was legally required to, the details of his foreign travel and his meetings with foreign government officials and business people. The criminal charges related to falsifying or failing to make disclosures about his travel and contacts will be dropped at sentencing.

Mr. McGonigal admitted to accepting $225,000 in cash installments from Mr. Neza, and to traveling to Albania with him and helping steer an oil drilling license to a company affiliated with Mr. Neza. Mr. McGonigal requested the money as a loan from Mr. Neza as they discussed a prospective business venture, including the formation of the consulting company to which he referred in court Friday, but there were no terms to the loan and it was never repaid, according to the description of his conduct filed with the plea agreement.

Mr. McGonigal also acknowledged other elements of the indictment:

He used his position to try to generate a $500,000 payment to Mr. Neza from an Eastern European pharmaceutical company. And he engineered an F.B.I. investigation into an American lobbyist working for a political rival of the Albanian prime minister, Edi Rama, with whom Mr. McGonigal had developed a friendship. The investigation did not result in charges.

The judge scheduled Mr. McGonigal’s sentencing in the Washington case for Feb. 16, 2024. He is to be sentenced in New York on Dec. 14.

Adam Goldman contributed reporting.

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