Roy McGrath, the former chief of staff to Gov. Larry Hogan facing state and federal criminal charges, says the governor approved his controversial payout from a state agency — and claims to have the documents to prove it.
Criminal and legislative investigations followed, and last month he was charged on criminal counts that include misappropriation, misconduct in office, wire fraud and wiretapping for allegedly secretly recording conversations with the governor and other top officials.
Prosecutors allege that McGrath misled officials at his prior state agency, the Maryland Environmental Service, to get them to approve the severance deal by implying that the governor supported it.
McGrath provided screenshots Thursday of messages from Hogan, including one where the Republican governor wrote: “I know you did nothing wrong. I know it is unfair. I will stand with you.”
McGrath said the messages were sent between Aug. 13, when the first Sun story about the severance published, and Aug. 17 when McGrath resigned.
A spokesman for the governor verified Hogan sent the message to McGrath but said it was before Hogan knew the full details of how McGrath worked out the severance deal.
“At that point, the governor was reserving judgment until all the facts came to light, and that fact-finding is what led to the resignation,” Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said in a statement.
The messages indicate the governor was concerned about the optics of the severance payment and whether Democrats would try to capitalize on it like “Bridgegate,” a 2013 scandal when aides to then-Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey were accused of closing lanes of a key bridge to create traffic backups for political retribution.
Hogan suggested a strategy meeting with senior advisor Ron Gunzburger, chief counsel Michael Pedone, chief legislative officer Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. and Ricci.
As McGrath left the job of executive director of the environmental service to head to the State House, he was paid the equivalent of one year’s salary of about $233,650 in severance, plus more than $5,000 in tuition benefits. He also was paid more than $55,000 in expense reimbursements.
Hogan has maintained publicly that he did not know the details of McGrath’s severance deal and did not endorse it.
Ten days after McGrath resigned, Hogan said during a news conference: “I knew nothing about the details of what his discussions were with his current employer or the board members of MES. I mean, I didn’t discuss it or approve it or know anything about the amounts of it or anything.”
Hogan said that when he offered McGrath the chief of staff job, McGrath said the move would be “a big cut in pay.” Hogan also said McGrath told him he had to “figure out” details of an expected bonus and other issues with the environmental service before accepting the position.
On Thursday, McGrath also provided an image of an “employment agreement” that he drafted at the time he was offered the job heading Hogan’s staff and said he presented it to the governor. The document, which is not on letterhead, is addressed “TO: Governor Hogan” but does not say who it is from. It lists McGrath’s new salary and “Other Compensation: Severance package from MES.” A box marked “approved” is checked off.
Ricci, the governor’s spokesman, said the purported employment agreement is “a complete fabrication, and bears no resemblance to the memos or documents submitted to the governor.”
McGrath’s documents were first reported by The Washington Post.
McGrath wrote in an email to The Sun that he’s sharing the documents now in hopes of getting “fairer, more objective treatment of my situation going forward.” He said he was previously “not in a position” to share all of the facts of his case.
“For more than a year, I have honorably respected a hiring agreement that my friend, Larry Hogan, asked me to keep confidential between the two of us,” McGrath wrote. “There was nothing inappropriate about this arrangement. He wanted me for the job, and this was what was necessary for me to take on a role I didn’t seek or want.”
The matter of whether Hogan knew about and endorsed McGrath’s severance payment from the environmental service is a key part of prosecutors’ allegations against McGrath. The federal indictment alleges that McGrath got the environmental service to approve the payout “based on false and misleading information.”
McGrath ran a “scheme of artifice to defraud” in which he “falsely represented that the Governor knew” about the severance payment, according to the indictment.
Doug Mayer, a political strategist and adviser to Hogan, rebutted McGrath’s claims that the governor fully supported the severance deal. Mayer said he spoke with McGrath about the matter in the days between The Sun’s first report and McGrath’s resignation.
“I gave him multiple opportunities to confirm what the governor knew and when, and he was never willing and never did confirm that the governor confirmed any of his severance or payouts,” Mayer said.
He added: “You’d ask him directly and he’d dance around it.”
Mayer said he recounted those conversations to investigators, and that some of those discussions are among the conversations that prosecutors say McGrath secretly recorded.
Mayer said the “employment agreement” that McGrath is now proffering is “laughable and quite honestly pathetic.”
Mayer questioned why, if the document and the text messages exonerated McGrath, he hadn’t revealed them before.
“At the end of the day,” Mayer said, “this is a sad guy flailing about and continuing what is unfortunately a life of lies that has fallen down around him.”
Until now, McGrath has offered few details about how he negotiated the severance package and what Hogan may have known about it. When he was questioned during a legislative investigation last December, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 170 times.
McGrath, who moved to Florida, is awaiting trials in both federal and state court in Maryland. His next scheduled court appearance is a status conference in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in December.