Former FBI official Charles McGonigal pleaded guilty on Friday to accepting $225,000 from Albanian-American Agron Nezaj, a former Albanian intelligence officer who McGonigal admitted was helping him foster relationships in Albania to help lay the groundwork for future business opportunities in the country.
According to court documents, Nezaj became an informant for the FBI’s investigation into McGonigal’s contacts in Albania.
In Washington, McGonigal faced a nine-count indictment charging him with failing to report cash payments, contacts with foreign officials and trips to Europe he took with Nezaj in 2017 and 2018 that neither he nor the FBI paid for.
The guilty plea was entered in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia in Washington, based on a deal between prosecutors and McGonigal’s lawyers. He pleaded guilty to one count of the indictment — concealing material evidence — and prosecutors dropped the other eight counts.
The settlement means the case will not go to trial.
McGonigal apologized to the court for his actions.
“Before I left the FBI in September 2018, I was planning to launch a security consulting business with a friend. I knew that my government contacts and international relationships might be useful to me when I later launched the business,” he told U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.
“I did not disclose an approximately $225,000 loan I received from my friend and prospective business partner in the U.S. for several meetings I attended with foreign nationals. These meetings were an effort to develop potential business relationships for my future consulting business. And the loan was intended to help start the business,” McGonigal said.
Those contacts included several meetings in 2017 and 2018 with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in the presence of Nezaj and an adviser to the prime minister, who had business interests in arranging the meetings.
In one instance, McGonigal opened a criminal investigation in New York into a U.S. lobbyist who was working for an Albanian opposition party. According to the indictment, he received this information from the Albanian prime minister’s office. The indictment does not identify the American lobbyist nor the Albanian party.
But on November 14, 2017, lobbyist Nick Muzin — an ex-Trump aide — filed on the lobbying activity on behalf of the Albanian Democratic Party, the main opposition party, with the Department of Justice. While lobbying for a foreign political force is not illegal for a registered lobbyist, Muzin had filed that activity months after an initial filing that was not complete.
The payment he received eventually became the subject of an investigation in Albania over the suspect origin of the money.
McGonigal told the court he had an ongoing relationship with the prime minister.
Rama has denied any wrongdoing.
McGonigal’s lawyer Seth DuCharme said after the hearing that his client takes full responsibility for his actions and looks forward to putting the case behind him.
“While he may have had or did have, I think, some pretty legitimate interests that aligned with the United States in keeping up those relationships, he also clearly had a personal interest,” DuCharme said.
McGonigal led the FBI’s counterintelligence division in New York before retiring in 2018.
In a separate case in New York, McGonigal pleaded guilty in August to a conspiracy charge, admitting that after leaving the FBI he agreed to work for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. McGonigal went to work for Deripaska, whom McGonigal had once investigated, to dig up dirt on the oligarch’s wealthy rival in violation of U.S. sanctions on Russia. He faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in mid-December.
The District of Columbia court charge carries a maximum of five years in prison, but prosecutors will likely seek a more lenient sentence as part of the plea agreement.
The judge said McGonigal will be sentenced in February and said he will not be able to appeal it.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters and The Associated Press.