Death of former top aide to Maryland governor ends manhunt

Apr 4, 2023, 11:45 AM

Knox County Sheriff's Office and FBI officers work in a parking lot area in Knoxville, Tenn. Monday...

Knox County Sheriff's Office and FBI officers work in a parking lot area in Knoxville, Tenn. Monday, April 3, 2023. A lawyer for a former Maryland political aide says the man has died after being wounded while being confronted by law enforcement agents following a manhunt launched after he failed to appear for trial. Attorney Joseph Murtha said it is not immediately clear if Roy McGrath’s wound was self-inflicted or came during an exchange of gunfire with agents. (Saul Young/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

(Saul Young/Knoxville News Sentinel via AP)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The three-week manhunt for a former top aide to Maryland’s governor ended in his death after public corruption charges cut his tenure short and ultimately sent him on the run from federal agents when he skipped a court appearance.

Roy McGrath, who had served as former Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief of staff, died from gunfire Monday night when FBI agents confronted the fugitive outside Knoxville, Tennessee.

Despite the twists and turns in the case, McGrath consistently expressed his innocence and was adamant from the beginning about taking the case to trial in hopes of clearing his name, according to his lawyer, Joseph Murtha. But when his March 13 trial date arrived, McGrath surprised his attorney by failing to appear at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

“We were moving forward and preparing for trial, but you never know what’s going on in someone’s mind,” Murtha said Tuesday morning. “The rest is three weeks of uncertainty and a tragic ending.”

McGrath served as Hogan’s chief of staff for just 11 weeks, resigning in August 2020 after it became public that he had received a $233,650 severance payment from his old job as head of a state-owned corporation before moving to the governor’s office.

McGrath, 53, was indicted in 2021 on accusations that he fraudulently secured the severance payment, equal to one year’s salary as the head of Maryland Environmental Service, by falsely telling the agency’s board that the governor had approved it, though Hogan denied knowledge of that. He also was accused of fraud and embezzlement connected to roughly $170,000 in expenses.

When McGrath’s professional reputation suffered because of the federal criminal charges, the blow was devastating for him personally, Murtha said.

“I think he felt like he had been destroyed. He felt completely betrayed,” Murtha said.

Murtha said Tuesday that the biggest unanswered question is whether McGrath was killed by law enforcement agents or died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Officials also haven’t said whether McGrath was armed during the fatal encounter.

McGrath was wounded during “an agent-involved shooting” about 6:30 p.m. Monday in the outskirts of Knoxville and was taken to a hospital, where he died, according to FBI Supervisory Special Agent Shayne Buchwald in Maryland. Further details, including how McGrath was wounded and what led up to it, were not released. The shooting remained under investigation.

“The FBI reviews every shooting incident involving an FBI special agent. The review will carefully examine the circumstances of the shooting, and collect all relevant evidence from the scene,” Buchwald said Tuesday.

McGrath grew up in southern Maryland, graduated from the University of Maryland in College Park and built a career in state-level Republican politics. His relationship with Hogan dated back decades; he worked on Hogan’s unsuccessful 1992 congressional campaign. McGrath spent many years working for the National Association of Chain Drug Stores before transitioning back into state politics after Hogan was elected governor.

In 2016, McGrath was appointed to serve as executive director of the Maryland Environmental Service. He oversaw the state-owned corporation, which provides environmental services such as water and wastewater management to government entities and private clients, until he became Hogan’s chief of staff in 2020.

According to federal and state prosecutors, McGrath took advantage of his positions of trust as the environmental agency’s director and Hogan’s top aide for personal gain.

“I really believe Roy was a dedicated public servant who sought to do the best job he could for the citizens of Maryland,” Murtha said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “He was a workaholic. He worked nonstop.”

In the months after his indictment, McGrath contended he had earned the severance package and had received authorization for it by the governor.

“I continue to cooperate fully, and will vigorously defend myself, in ongoing legal matters connected to politically motivated claims surrounding a customary and well-earned severance package from my position as CEO of the Maryland Environmental Service,” McGrath wrote in a Nov. 30, 2021 commentary in The Baltimore Sun.

Hogan, who was expected to testify in the trial, has denied knowledge of it.

If convicted of the federal charges, he would have faced a maximum sentence of 20 years for each of four counts of wire fraud, plus a maximum of 10 years for each of two counts of embezzling funds from an organization receiving more than $10,000 in federal benefits.

___ Sarah Brumfield contributed to this report from Silver Spring, Maryland.

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Death of former top aide to Maryland governor ends manhunt