The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Former chief of staff to then-Gov. Larry Hogan still at large

A manhunt began March 13 after Roy McGrath failed to appear in federal court on fraud, embezzlement charges

A wanted poster for Roy McGrath. (U.S. Marshals Service/Reuters)
6 min

The slight, graying man peering wide-eyed and uncomfortable from a wanted poster in a pinstriped shirt and yellow tie, his top coat button still buttoned, has now been at the center of a federal manhunt for nearly a week.

Efforts to find 53-year-old Roy C. McGrath, a former top aide to then Gov. Larry Hogan (R), have intensified since he failed to appear Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore on federal wire fraud and embezzlement charges.

U.S. marshals are asking for the public’s help. His wife is asking for privacy. His lawyer, Joe Murtha, is worried.

“I told him I’d see him at 8:45 outside of the courtroom,” said Murtha, who last spoke with McGrath on Sunday. “Both myself and his wife and the people that care about him have concerns about his safety.”

Experts say federal authorities will spare no expense to ensure he doesn’t escape after dodging the first day of a scheduled three-week trial on charges stemming from alleged financial improprieties during his leadership of a Maryland quasi-governmental agency.

“Yeah, he’s going to be a priority,” said John Muffler, a retired chief inspector of the U.S. Marshals Service who spent 24 years with the agency and now runs a private security firm. “It brings attention, positively, to the agency, so this isn’t something anybody’s going to be sleeping on. They’ll be dropping things to chase this guy.”

Muffler said the question is not whether they’ll find McGrath, who surrendered his passport under pretrial release, but when.

“This isn’t a career criminal. … This is new to him,” Muffler said. “This is uncharted territory for someone that is running, so there’ll be mistakes. And he’s going to stick out wherever he may go.”

On Wednesday morning, federal agents gathered outside McGrath’s home in a gated, palm tree-lined neighborhood in Naples, Fla., and approached his front door with a battering ram. Moments later, they led McGrath’s wife outside. The episode is shown in a video taken by Robert Desiano, owner of the online outlet Naples News Now, who lives in the neighborhood and said he happened upon the spectacle on his way to the gym.

With McGrath’s wife outside, the federal agents headed toward the front door with long guns. Muffler said that’s normal procedure for officer and public safety. “I don’t know anything of his background, but certainly he doesn’t want to go to jail,” Muffler said. “And, you know, guys that don’t want to go to jail do desperate things.”

Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Albert Maresca Jr. confirmed that authorities searched McGrath’s home “in hopes of finding information that will lead to his whereabouts,” but declined to share details of the agency’s findings. Maresca said that as with any search, agents have been seeking to interview neighbors and family members, “and we’re going to do everything we can to develop investigative leads and bring this offender to justice.”

Murtha said that authorities seized McGrath’s wife’s phone during the search, and that he hasn’t spoken with her since. The couple bought the home together in late 2020, public records show, after he resigned from the governor’s office.

McGrath was indicted in 2021, more than a year after the Baltimore Sun broke news of a nearly quarter-million-dollar severance he received in 2020 upon leaving the Maryland agency to become Hogan’s top aide — an abrupt turn for a man State House colleagues described as meticulous and strait-laced, a consummate administrator.

McGrath has maintained that Hogan approved the severance package from the Maryland Environmental Service (MES), where he served as executive director, but prosecutors allege he misled officials to obtain the payout. The former governor has cooperated with law enforcement and has not been accused of any crime, and he has repeatedly denied knowledge of it.

“I know you did nothing wrong. I know it is unfair. I will stand with you,” Hogan wrote to his former aide in an undated message after it was publicly revealed that McGrath received the payment.

Michael Ricci, then a spokesman for Hogan, said that the governor did send the message but it was before he learned more details about how the severance package was obtained.

McGrath has said he resigned from the chief of staff job, which he held for less than three months, because of the governor’s pledge to stand by him.

Md. Gov. Larry Hogan’s messages to state employees self-destruct in 24 hours

Prosecutors say McGrath falsified a memo in which he said Hogan approved the severance.

“This is devastating my life,” McGrath told Hogan in a private text message in 2020, according to an image obtained by The Washington Post.

Federal and state authorities allege that McGrath enriched himself by “using his positions of trust” as the executive director of MES and the chief of staff for Hogan to cause MES to pay the severance and other expenses. Prosecutors also say McGrath falsified time sheets, recording that he was at work while he took two vacations, including one to Europe in 2019 with his girlfriend, whom he later married.

McGrath also faces state charges of theft, misconduct in office and violating Maryland’s wiretap laws by recording private calls with Hogan and other officials without their permission. A state trial is scheduled for this summer.

In interviews in 2021 with 20 current and former state government and State House officials who worked with McGrath as he came up in Maryland politics, almost all told The Post they were caught off guard by the news of his severance package and excesses in spending. They described him as being a straightforward, formal and, at times, stiff colleague who focused on work and did not seem to have outsize political ambitions.

McGrath, who was born in Greece and grew up in Maryland, entered politics at 18, when he became a member of the Republican Party and later formed a Young Republicans club in Southern Maryland. McGrath knew Hogan as a young congressional candidate in the early 1990s and served on his campaign committee during Hogan’s unsuccessful bid to unseat Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). The two would meet again in 2014 when McGrath, who was then working as vice president of business development and conventions at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, volunteered and donated to Hogan’s gubernatorial campaign.

Shortly after Hogan won, he tapped McGrath as his deputy chief of staff. In 2016, Hogan appointed McGrath to take the helm at MES, and in 2020 during the pandemic, the governor asked McGrath, whom he called a “leader with a proven track record … and a passionate commitment to public service,” to take one of the most powerful positions in state government as his chief of staff.

Hogan, who left office in January, was on the prosecution’s witness list for the trial. Murtha said this week that his client felt betrayed by the former governor.

“He anticipated that the governor would stay true to his statement, but instead, when the wagons were circled, Hogan was on the inside, and Roy McGrath was on the outside, fending for himself,” Murtha said.