by Debra Heine
A former senior FBI counterintelligence official involved in the Trump-Russia probe was arrested and charged over the weekend for money laundering and violating sanctions against Russia while secretly working with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who the U.S. government sanctioned.
Charles McGonigal was the special agent in charge of counterintelligence in the FBI’s New York Field Office until he retired in 2018. McGonigal was arrested Saturday afternoon at JFK Airport, following travels in Sri Lanka, according to Fox News sources.
McGonigal, 54, is accused of violating U.S. sanctions by agreeing to provide services to Deripaska. The Russian billionaire was placed under U.S. sanctions in 2018 for reasons relating to the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia. The oligarch was criminally charged last year with violating those sanctions.
Sergey Shestakov, a former Soviet and Russian diplomat, was also arrested on Saturday, according to the indictment. After becoming a U.S. citizen, Shestakov, 69, worked as a Russian interpreter for courts and government offices.
McGonigal has hit with a second indictment on Monday, on charges related to his receipt of $225,000 in cash from a former employee of a foreign intelligence service, while he was still employed at the Bureau.
According to the nine-count indictment, unsealed today, from August 2017 and continuing through and beyond his retirement from the FBI in September 2018, McGonigal concealed from the FBI the nature of his relationship with a former foreign security officer and businessperson who had ongoing business interests in foreign countries and before foreign governments. Specifically, McGonigal requested and received at least $225,000 in cash from the individual and traveled abroad with the individual and met with foreign nationals. The individual later served as an FBI source in a criminal investigation involving foreign political lobbying over which McGonigal had official supervisory responsibility. McGonigal is accused of engaging in other conduct in his official capacity as an FBI Special Agent in Charge that he believed would benefit the businessperson financially.
McGonigal and Shestakov “both previously worked with Deripaska to attempt to have his sanctions removed, and, as public servants, they should have known better,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said in a statement. “This Office will continue to prosecute those who violate U.S. sanctions enacted in response to Russian belligerence in Ukraine in order to line their own pockets.”
Both men are charged with one count of conspiring to violate and evade U.S. sanctions, in violation of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (“IEEPA”), one count of violating the IEEPA, one count of conspiring to commit money laundering, and one count of money laundering, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Shestakov is also charged with one count of making false statements, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, prosecutors said.
“The FBI is committed to the enforcement of economic sanctions designed to protect the United States and our allies, especially against hostile activities of a foreign government and its actors,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael J. Driscoll said. “Russian oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska perform global malign influence on behalf of the Kremlin and are associated with acts of bribery, extortion, and violence.”
“After sanctions are imposed, they must be enforced equally against all U.S. citizens in order to be successful,” Driscoll added. “There are no exceptions for anyone, including a former FBI official like Mr. McGonigal. Supporting a designated threat to the United States and our allies is a crime the FBI will continue to pursue aggressively.”
The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) designated Deripaska as a Specially Designated National (“SDN”) on April 6, 2018, and sanctioned him “for acting on behalf of a senior official of the Russian Federation’s government and for operating in the Russian energy sector.”
In 2021, the two defendants agreed to and did investigate a rival Russian oligarch of Deripaska in return for concealed payments from Derispaska, in violation of sanctions the United States imposed in 2018, the indictment says. McGonigal and Shestakov allegedly knew their actions violated U.S. sanctions because, among other reasons, while serving as special agent in charge, McGonigal received then-classified information that Deripaska would be added to a list of oligarchs considered for sanctions.
As part of their negotiations with Deripaska’s agent, McGonigal, Shestakov and the agent attempted to conceal Deripaska’s involvement by, among other means, not directly naming Deripaska in electronic communications, using shell companies as counterparties in the contract that outlined the services to be performed, using a forged signature on that contract, and using the same shell companies to send and receive payments from Deripaska, according to the indictment.
In 2019, McGonigal and Shestakov also allegedly worked on behalf of Deripaska in an unsuccessful effort to have the sanctions against Deripaska lifted. In November 2021, when FBI agents questioned Shestakov about the nature of his and McGonigal’s relationship with Deripaska’s agent, the interpreter made false statements in a recorded interview, federal prosecutors said.
While serving as chief of the cybercrimes section at FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., McGonigal was reportedly one of the first bureau officials to pick up on George Papadopoulos’ boast that he knew the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The former 2016 Trump advisor’s gossipy remarks helped spur the Operation Crossfire Hurricane.
McGonigal was also involved in the bureau’s probe of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, according to text messages released by Senate Republicans. “Our Team is currently talking to [Carter Page] re Russia,” he wrote on March 16, 2017, to an FBI colleague.
Deripaska has ties to disgraced former British spy Christopher Steele, who compiled the infamous dossier that alleged the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.
Steele acted as a paid lobbyist on behalf Deripaska, and used the FBI to launder his political work. “Steele furnished intelligence information that the FBI disseminated, including in four Intelligence Information Reports (IIRs) sent throughout the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) concerning the activities of Russian oligarchs,” Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz Horowitz confirmed. “By the time Steele was closed by the FBI as a CHS [confidential human source] in November 2016, the FBI had disseminated 10 IIRs based on Steele’s reporting.”
Sergei Millian, a pro-Trump Belarusian-American businessman was falsely accused of being a source for the Steele Dossier, and of being someone who substantiated the existence of the infamous “pee tape.”
Special Counsel John Durham’s years-long investigation into the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation however determined that Steele’s colleague Igor Danchenko was the primary researcher behind the now debunked and discredited dossier.
Millian, who has fought for years to regain his reputation after it was dragged through the mud, said on Twitter that Durham should talk to McGonigal, as he “now has a motive to out the co-conspirators who made false accusations against President Trump.”
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Debra Heine reports for American Greatness.
Photo “FBI Building” by Ken Lund. CC BY-SA 2.0.