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Former FBI spy hunter pleads guilty to working for Russian oligarch

Charles McGonigal, once special agent in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI’s New York office, admitted that he took money from Putin crony Oleg Deripaska.
Image: Charles McGonigal
Charles McGonigal, former special agent in charge of the FBI's counterintelligence division in New York, arrives at federal court in New York City on Tuesday. Seth Wenig / AP

The FBI’s former top spy catcher in New York pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiring to violate U.S. sanctions by taking money from Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in exchange for information on a rival. 

Charles McGonigal, former special agent in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI’s New York office, told the court he received $17,500 from Deripaska, laundered from Gazprom Bank in Russia to Cyprus to a business bank account in New Jersey and then McGonigal's private account.

Deripaska, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin whose net worth has been estimated at more than $3 billion, was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018 and then charged last year by federal prosecutors in New York with violating the sanctions

McGonigal, who left the FBI in 2018, signed a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that does not include a cooperation agreement and could lead to a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

McGonigal is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 14.

After he pleaded guilty, McGonigal told the court, “This, as you can imagine, has been a painful process not just for me but for my family, friends and loved ones.” 

He said he is “deeply remorseful” and takes “full responsibility and never intended to hurt the U.S., F.B.I. or my family.”

Asked by Judge Jennifer Rearden, “Did you know what you were doing was wrong and unlawful?” he answered, “Yes, your honor.”

Matthew G. Olsen, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said, “Charles McGonigal, by his own admission, betrayed his oath and actively concealed his illicit work at the bidding of a sanctioned Russian oligarch."

As part of his plea, McGonigal admitted that he took money from Deripaska to collect open-source derogatory information about Vladimir Potanin — a Deripaska competitor — and could have received over $650,000 had he successfully found and produced the location of $500 million in hidden Potanin assets.  

Potanin, a deputy prime minister during Boris Yeltsin’s presidency in the 1990s, had several well-publicized business disputes with Deripaska. He was sanctioned in 2022 by the U.S. government.