Madeleine O'Neill//March 22, 2023
//March 22, 2023
More than a week after Roy McGrath failed to show up at his federal fraud trial in Baltimore, a mysterious, self-published e-book purporting to share his side of the story — authored by a man claiming not to be McGrath himself — added a baffling new layer of intrigue to the saga.
The book’s author, a man who says his name is “Ryan Cooper,” claims he interviewed McGrath in order to write about McGrath’s time as chief of staff to ex-Gov. Larry Hogan and at the Maryland Environmental Service.
Cooper has not provided any information to prove his identity and, as of Wednesday morning, had not called a Daily Record reporter or answered written questions. Cooper also has not provided any evidence that he actually communicated with McGrath, such as text messages or emails, making it difficult to assess the book’s claims.
But Cooper certainly benefited from the publicity surrounding the search for McGrath as it stretched into its eighth day. “Betrayed: The True Story of Roy McGrath,” which cost $4.99 to purchase on Amazon, surged to the top spot on Amazon’s political short reads bestsellers list among Kindle books.
A person claiming to be Cooper on Twitter said that proceeds of the book’s sales are going to McGrath’s legal defense fund. The Twitter user has also been promoting the book to far-right media personalities and politicians.
A spokesperson for Amazon Books said the company could not provide any identifying information about the book’s author.
McGrath faces both state and federal charges stemming from his time as the head of MES, a quasi-public agency that offers environmental and infrastructure services to local governments and some private entities.
McGrath headed MES from December 2016 until May 31, 2020, when he left the agency to become Hogan’s new chief of staff. The indictments against McGrath accuse him of scheming to fraudulently secure a $233,648 severance package, the equivalent of one year’s salary, when he left MES.
Prosecutors claim that McGrath led members of the MES board to believe that Hogan had approved of the severance payment, though according to the indictment McGrath did not tell Hogan about the plan. With the assurance that Hogan approved, the MES board agreed to give McGrath the generous payout.
“Betrayed” claims that McGrath told Hogan he planned to seek the severance payment to make up for losing income by moving to the governor’s office from MES. Without providing any evidence, the book says Hogan “liked the idea, but told Roy great, just keep me out of it. I don’t have any authority over MES.”
According to the book, it was this conversation that led McGrath to tell a member of the MES board that his severance payment was “anticipated,” which led to the impression that Hogan had approved the deal. The book claims Hogan later backpedaled when the payment became public.
David Weinman, a spokesperson for Hogan, said in a statement: “In this day and age, anyone can publish a ‘book’ and repeat bizarre and baseless accusations, including fugitives from justice who are facing multiple counts of fraud.”
Hogan was expected to testify at McGrath’s federal trial before it was canceled because of the defendant’s disappearance.
McGrath is also accused of falsifying a memo to make it appear that Hogan had signed off on the severance payment. The book claims the memo is authentic, while federal prosecutors say it is a fabrication.
McGrath also faces charges related to tens of thousands of dollars in expenses he charged to MES, as well as his failure to take vacation time while visiting Florida and traveling on a cruise to Spain, France and Italy.
The book offers explanations for the allegations contained in those charges, and attempts to minimize their importance, but generally does not deny the underlying accusations.
McGrath is also accused in state court of illegally recording conversations with Hogan and other top officials.
The book claims McGrath began recording his discussions because he sensed a “looming scandal” related to South Korean COVID-19 test kits that Hogan acquired during the early days of the pandemic. The tests, which arrived to the U.S. with much fanfare, did not work and had to be replaced.
It is unclear whether McGrath’s recordings would have been admitted as evidence at his federal trial. Federal prosecutors sought to limit McGrath’s ability to use the recordings, arguing that McGrath should not benefit from recordings that were illegal under Maryland law.
Murtha responded that the recordings are admissible because they were made in accordance with federal law, which only requires one party to consent to a recording. The dispute had not been resolved heading into McGrath’s trial.
The new book is likely to catch the attention of federal prosecutors, though a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore declined to say whether the office is investigating the book or trying to find its author.
The U.S. Marshals Service has been searching for McGrath since March 13, when he unexpectedly failed to appear for the first day of his federal trial on charges of wire fraud, theft and falsifying records.
McGrath’s lawyer, Joseph Murtha, said that he spoke with McGrath the evening before the trial and expected him to fly to Baltimore from his home in Florida that night. Instead, McGrath stopped responding to messages from his lawyer and never showed up at the federal courthouse.
The FBI raided McGrath’s home in Naples, Florida, where he and his wife, Laura Bruner, live in an upscale gated community. Bruner married McGrath less than two weeks before he was federally indicted and was expected to exercise spousal privilege to avoid testifying at his trial.
Murtha said previously that Bruner was cooperating with law enforcement and had been questioned about McGrath’s disappearance.
The U.S. Marshals Service has declined to comment on its search for McGrath.e