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Former Hogan aide McGrath pleads not guilty to federal charges

Roy C. McGrath, former chief of staff to Gov. Larry Hogan and executive director of the Maryland Environmental Service, has pleaded not guilty to federal charges. He is shown here at a 2020 event. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

A former top aide to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday formally entered a plea of not guilty to a six-count federal indictment.

Roy McGrath, a former chief of staff to the two-term Republican executive, entered his plea during an arraignment that lasted just over three minutes.

McGrath was indicted by federal prosecutors on four counts of wire fraud and two counts of misappropriation for alleged acts that occurred during his tenure as executive director of the quasi-public Maryland Environmental Service. He also faces separate but related charges in state court.

During the arraignment, held virtually, McGrath gave very short answers, including to questions regarding his age and year of birth, and he indicated he understood the charges against him and his plea of not guilty.

McGrath’s attorney, Joseph Murtha, asked for a jury trial. Federal prosecutors told U.S. District Magistrate Judge J. Mark Coulson a jury trial could last about two weeks. No date has been set for the trial.

Murtha told Coulson he expects prosecutors will turn over documents related to the case soon.

“The government has been very clear that there is a lot coming,” said Murtha

McGrath is accused of fraudulently securing a $233,647.23 severance payment from MES in May 2020 before leaving to become Hogan’s chief of staff in June. McGrath is accused of  falsely telling the board that Hogan approved the payment. McGrath filed false time sheets with MES, claiming he was working while actually on vacation, according to the indictment.

McGrath is also accused of using funds from the service to pay a pledge he made personally to a museum. He also allegedly had the service pay nearly $15,000 so he could attend Harvard Kennedy School Executive Education program after he left MES.

If convicted, McGrath could face prison sentences of up to 20 years on each count of wire fraud plus fines of up to $250,000 for each as well as any ordered restitution. He faces additional penalties of 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines plus restitution for each count of misappropriation.

In an interview with The Washington Post earlier this month, McGrath said Hogan was aware of the severance and provided a text message sent to him from the governor.

“I know you did nothing wrong. I think it is unfair. I will stand with you,” Hogan wrote to McGrath after it became public in the middle of August 2020 that McGrath received a $233,647 severance package from Maryland Environmental Services. The message provided to the paper was not dated.

McGrath also provided the newspaper with a copy of a memo dated May 18, 2020, that McGrath said was a confidential agreement between himself and Hogan about the severance payment.

The newspaper reported McGrath drafted the memo himself. The document includes two boxes — one labeled “Approved” and one labeled “Disapproved. Needs further discussion.” The “Approved” box contains a blue check mark. McGrath alleged in the Washington Post report that Hogan himself checked the box.

A spokesman for the governor confirmed to The Associated Press the authenticity of the text message between McGrath and Hogan.

Michael Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, confirmed to The Associated Press that the message was authentic. Hogan has repeatedly told reporters that he was unaware of the details about the severance before he hired McGrath on June 1, 2020, and Ricci said Thursday that the private message does not contradict Hogan’s earlier statements.

Ricci called the memo to the newspaper “a complete fabrication.”

McGrath also faces more than two dozen state charges of illegally recording conversations between himself, Hogan and other top state officials as well as misconduct in office, embezzlement and theft.

All of those charges are related to his time as head of the Maryland Environmental Service. The Office of the State Prosecutor announced those charges at the same time that federal prosecutors made public an indictment against McGrath.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.