Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is attempting to block the release of conversations that were recorded secretly by his one-time chief of staff, who is awaiting criminal trials on wiretapping and other charges in both state and federal court.
Roy McGrath, who served as Hogan’s top aide for 11 weeks in 2020, has been charged with embezzling state money for personal purposes, misleading officials into paying him a six-figure severance and illegally recording conversations with Hogan and other top government officials.
Among the charges McGrath is facing are nine counts of illegal “interception of communication” — also known as wiretapping — in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.
As part of the discovery phase of the trial, state prosecutors have asked the court for permission to disclose those recorded conversations to McGrath and those who were recorded. It is against the law to share illegal recordings unless a court allows it.
Hogan’s lawyer expressed reservations in a court filing.
“While I acknowledge that the Defendant, Mr. McGrath, is entitled to the alleged illegal intercepts as a part of preparing his defense, I have serious concerns that he may misuse them,” wrote Christopher J. Mincher, senior deputy legal counsel to the Republican governor, in a letter to the court.
“Mr. McGrath has demonstrated an apparent willingness to share evidence with the media,” continued Mincher, who described the governor as “a victim of certain crimes” in the case.
McGrath’s attorney, Joseph Murtha, dismissed the governor’s actions as a ploy to influence the outcome of the criminal case.
“Mr. Mincher suggests that Mr. McGrath has engaged in some action that will lead to his engaging in behavior prohibited by law,” Murtha wrote in a court filing. “The spurious comments in Mr. Mincher’s letter are a politically motivated effort to interfere with Mr. McGrath’s right to a fair trial.”
Mincher noted that McGrath provided copies of documents related to the case to a reporter from The Washington Post in early November. McGrath provided the same documents to The Baltimore Sun, which he claimed proved the governor knew about and supported his efforts to get a generous severance payout from the Maryland Environmental Service when he left a position there to become chief of staff.
The documents McGrath sent to reporters in early November include screenshots of undated messages in which the governor wrote: “I know you did nothing wrong. I know it is unfair. I will stand with you.”
McGrath also shared with reporters an image of what he said was an “employment agreement” listing McGrath’s new salary and “Other Compensation: Severance package from MES.” A box marked “approved” is checked off.
A spokesman for the governor previously called the purported employment agreement “a complete fabrication.” The governor’s office declined to comment further Tuesday.
Mincher raised concerns that McGrath might share the recorded phone calls, just as he’s shared other details of the case.
“This office has not had an opportunity to review the alleged illegal intercepts, but we believe it is very likely that they contain communications with the Governor and members of the Governor’s staff that are subject to executive, deliberative process, or other legal privilege,” Mincher wrote the court on Nov. 22.
Mincher asked that if the recordings are shared with McGrath’s team and witnesses, then at least the court should order McGrath not to share them further.
Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Michael Wachs responded the next day that Mincher and the governor’s team should take the matter up with the prosecutors and defense lawyers. Wachs wrote that he couldn’t take any official action because the governor had only sent a letter, and had not filed a formal legal pleading.
State prosecutors have proposed that Wachs order that the recordings should be released to the parties in the case under the condition that they not be shared further. Wachs has not yet ruled on releasing the recordings.
State Prosecutor Charlton T. Howard III and Deputy State Prosecutor Sarah R. David declined to comment.
Prosecutors allege that McGrath’s misconduct included illegally recording nine conversations on his iPhone over the course of 2020, including four conversations that involved the governor.
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Others who were recorded, according to charging documents, included officials with the Maryland Environmental Service, the governor’s top lawyer, the governor’s former chief of staff and the state’s secretaries for health, transportation and general services.
Maryland’s wiretapping law requires all parties to be notified when they are being recorded. The charging documents don’t make clear whether the recordings were made of phone calls, in-person meetings or video meetings.
The wiretapping charges are among dozens of state and federal counts that McGrath was charged with in October. He has pleaded not guilty in the federal case and has not yet entered a plea in the Anne Arundel County case.
McGrath is scheduled to appear in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court for a status conference Friday, but his attorney has asked for a postponement.
The investigations into McGrath’s conduct as chief of staff and as head of the Maryland Environmental Service before that came after The Baltimore Sun reported that McGrath was awarded one year’s salary and other perks as a payout when he left the environmental service to join Hogan’s team. The Maryland Environmental Service is an independent state agencies that provides public works and environmental services to local and state government agencies. It gets 95% of its budget from tax dollars.
McGrath defended the severance payout but resigned as Hogan’s chief of staff four days later.
McGrath now lives in Florida and is free while he awaits his trials.