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Lawyer for ex-Russian diplomat charged with ex-FBI counterintel chief tells judge client isn’t ‘traitor’ or ‘spy’

Kremlin towers and cathedrals via MLADEN ANTONOV and AFP and Getty Images

Kremlin towers and cathedrals (Photo via MLADEN ANTONOV and AFP and Getty Images)

The lawyer for an ex-Russian diplomat charged with New York’s former top FBI counterintelligence chief accused of being on an oligarch’s payroll told a federal judge her client isn’t a “traitor” or a “spy.”

A former Soviet and Russian diplomat, Sergey Shestakov stands accused of helping the FBI’s former special agent in charge of counterintelligence, Charles McGonigal, investigate a rival oligarch for Oleg Deripaska — in exchange for hefty, disguised payments. Both face charges under the same indictment.

Prosecutors say that a contract called for a Cyprus corporation to pay a New Jersey corporation, held in the name of McGonigal’s friend, $51,280 upon execution of the agreement and $41,790 per month for “business intelligence services, analysis, and research.”

Such an arrangement violated sanctions the Treasury Department imposed on Deripaska as a result of Russia’s 2014 conflict with Ukraine, prosecutors said.

McGonigal appeared in court flanked by his lawyer Seth DuCharme, a former Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General under Bill Barr and an ex-U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York appointed by former President Donald Trump.

Eclipsed by his ex-FBI chief co-defendant, Shestakov became a U.S. citizen before encountering his current legal troubles. His alleged role in assisting the conspiracy took center stage on Thursday because of an indignant monologue by his counsel, Rita Glavin, who was former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s lawyer defending him from a flurry of allegations about sexual misconduct.

Glavin denounced what she called a “media frenzy” surrounding her client.

“He’s not a Russian spy,” Glavin said, noting he hasn’t been charged with that.

“Yes, he was a Russian diplomat,” she conceded of her client. “He ended his service in 1993 when he retired.”

She also denied her client’s ties to Deripaska.

Deripaska himself has been indicted since September 2022 for allegedly violating those sanctions through real estate transactions and an effort to have his pregnant girlfriend give birth in the United States.

The blockbuster allegations against McGonigal, a 20-year veteran of the bureau seasoned in Russian counterintelligence, organized crime matters and counter-espionage, stoked fears of Russian influence on the U.S. security services and made waves on Capitol Hill.

Deripaska was a key figure in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The billionaire, who led the Russian energy company En+ Group and the aluminum giant United Company Rusal, was connected to former President Trump’s ex-campaign chair Paul Manafort. Mueller found that Manafort instructed his deputy Rick Gates to share campaign information with suspected Russian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik. Gates “expected” that information would be shared with Deripaska, according to the report.

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Earlier this month, Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI director Christopher Wray asking whether or how McGonigal’s alleged ties to Deripaska may have affected those investigations, including the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane and Russia probes.

“As a SAC for the New York Field Office, Mr. McGonigal oversaw many sensitive counterintelligence investigations, including investigations involving individuals he has now been accused of working to benefit,” Durbin’s letter said. “Mr. Deripaska was central to Paul Manafort’s ties to Russia, and the FBI New York Field Office used the former Albanian intelligence agency employee as a confidential human source in a criminal investigation.”

In a separate indictment in Washington, D.C., McGonigal has been charged with requesting and receiving at least $225,000 in cash from a foreign intelligence officer.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."