American jailed for working with Russian tycoon

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Charles McGonigal pleaded guilty in August to conspiring with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to violate US sanctions

A US judge sentenced former FBI counterintelligence bureau chief for New York Charles McGonigal to 50 months in prison on Thursday, citing the serious national security consequences of his work with sanctioned Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska.

McGonigal “repeatedly flouted and manipulated the sanctions regimes vital” to the country’s national security, US District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Jennifer Rearden said. 

The undeniable seriousness of this and the need to respect the law … compels a meaningful custodial sentence,” Rearden said. She added, however, that McGonigal’s crimes “do not altogether stamp out” the contributions he made to his country during his 22-year career with the agency.

McGonigal pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to violate US sanctions and money laundering in August, cutting his potential prison time by three-quarters. After retiring from the FBI in 2018, he had met with Deripaska and arranged for a monthly retainer to a New York law firm, supposedly aimed at helping the tycoon remove the US sanctions placed on him earlier that year but with a hefty chunk of the payment set aside for McGonigal himself. In 2021, Deripaska hired him to investigate a rival, Vladimir Potanin. 

In an emotional display before the sentencing was read, McGonigal begged the judge for “a second chance,” insisting he had a “deep sense of remorse and sorrow” for his actions and felt “extreme mental, emotional, and physical pain, not to mention the shame I feel in embarrassing myself and the FBI.” 

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 Oleg Deripaska attends a meeting between businessmen and Russian President Vladimir Putin near St. Petersburg, Russia, August 9, 2016 Former FBI agent arrested over ties to Russian tycoon

Prosecutors had argued he should serve the five-year maximum sentence, having allegedly put US national security at risk and betrayed his country out of sheer “greed.” While the work he performed for Deripaska might not have seemed especially detrimental to Washington’s interests, it was done with an eye toward “millions of dollars in future work for the oligarch,” they said. 

McGonigal’s own attorney, Seth DuCharme, suggested he should serve no prison time at all, arguing the work he did for Deripaska merely amounted to investigating a rival oligarch – work not in opposition to US foreign policy, rather than anything “particularly nefarious” – and was eclipsed by decades of honorable service with the FBI.

DuCharme insisted McGonigal had suffered enough, “having lost his job, his reputation and the peace of his family life.” 

McGonigal was ordered to surrender to prison on February 26. He is also due in court in February for a separate sentencing on charges of taking $225,000 in bribes from a former Albanian intelligence official.

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