Manhunt underway for Roy McGrath, ex-chief of staff to former Gov. Hogan, after no-show at fraud trial

Published 3/13/2023 10:11 a.m. EDT, Updated 4/4/2023 9:31 p.m. EDT

Roy McGrath speaks during a coronavirus press conference at the Maryland State House on April 15, 2020. McGrath, who eventually became Gov. Larry Hogan's chief of staff, is facing state and federal criminal charges related to a "severance" payment he received from the Maryland Environmental Service when he left to join Hogan's office.

NAPLES, FLORIDA — Law enforcement has launched a manhunt for Roy McGrath, the ex-chief of staff to former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, after he failed to appear in federal court Monday for the start of his criminal trial on fraud and theft charges.

Sheriff’s deputies checked his home Monday morning in Naples, Florida, but McGrath wasn’t there, a spokeswoman said. A judge issued a warrant for his arrest, and the U.S. Marshals Service is calling him a fugitive.

The area around McGrath’s Raffia Preserve home in Naples is quiet, a gated community off a main road that features new-build strip malls with restaurants such as Five Guys and Dunkin’ Donuts. Inside the community, the exterior of McGrath’s house was quiet, with no police presence.

McGrath was supposed to meet his lawyer, Joseph Murtha, outside U.S. District Court in downtown Baltimore at 8:45 a.m., ahead of a 9 a.m. hearing that was to be followed by jury selection.

He never showed.

“We’re doing what we can to make sure Roy is safe and we see him soon,” Murtha told reporters outside the courthouse.

Murtha told U.S. District Judge Deborah L. Boardman that he’d spoken with McGrath for about 90 minutes on Sunday afternoon. McGrath had plans to fly up from Florida Sunday night and stay over at a hotel in the Baltimore area.

Murtha said he had no reason to think that McGrath wouldn’t show up. “He and I always had a very professional and engaged conversation that were directly related to moving forward to the trial,” the lawyer told reporters. “I looked forward to seeing him at 8:45 a.m.”

Neither McGrath nor his wife, Laura Bruner, responded to his text messages on Monday morning, Murtha said. He said he didn’t know McGrath’s exact flight plans or which hotel he had booked.

When McGrath hadn’t arrived by 10 a.m., Boardman issued an arrest warrant for him.

“We all just hope he is safe and there’s some mix-up,” said Boardman. She paused before continuing: “And I suppose we just wait.”

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At about 11:15 a.m., the judge excused the potential jurors and appeared to remain concerned for McGrath’s well being.

“Perhaps there is some confusion,” she said. “God forbid, something happened to him.”

McGrath was set to be tried on criminal charges of wire fraud, theft and falsifying documents. A large, wood-paneled courtroom was set for the trial. Clipboards with jury questionnaire answer sheets were set out at dozens of auditorium-style seats.

McGrath has pleaded not guilty in the case.

He did not respond to messages The Baltimore Banner sent to his email accounts. A phone number listed for him did not have a voicemail box set up; a text message went unanswered.

McGrath spent 11 weeks as Hogan’s chief of staff in the summer of 2020, until it was reported that he had negotiated a generous “severance” payment for leaving his prior position at the Maryland Environmental Service, an independent state agency. McGrath resigned under pressure days after the first news report.

Investigations by law enforcement and legislators followed, revealing that McGrath allegedly misled the Maryland Environmental Service’s board of directors about Hogan’s support for the severance. Hogan has maintained that he did not give his blessing to the severance payment and did not know the details.

Prosecutors also allege that McGrath created a fake memo to back up his story that Hogan supported the severance.

Hogan, who recently decided not to run for president in 2024, is listed as a potential witness for the prosecution.

McGrath is accused of other wrongdoing in a federal indictment, including falsifying his time cards to show he was working when he was actually on vacation, improperly directing an employee to use nearly $15,000 of Maryland Environmental Service money to pay for a course at Harvard University and using $15,000 of the service’s money to fulfill a personal pledge to an art museum on the Eastern Shore.

McGrath is also awaiting trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court this summer on charges of misconduct in office and wiretapping, for allegedly recording other government officials — including Hogan — without their consent.

Attorney Joseph Murtha speaks to reporters outside U.S. District Court in Baltimore on Monday, March 13, 2023. He represents Roy McGrath, an ex-chief of staff to former Gov. Larry Hogan, who did not show up for his scheduled trial.

Charges were filed against McGrath in both cases in the fall of 2021. McGrath was released pending trial, allowed to travel between Florida and Maryland, as well as any other travel approved by federal officials.

He was required to surrender his passport to U.S. marshals. He was not allowed to own a gun and his wife was required to surrender a firearm to authorities.

Before his abbreviated stint as chief of staff, McGrath had led the Maryland Environmental Service, an independent state agency that carries out public works and environmental projects for local governments and other state agencies. It also receives funding from the federal government.

McGrath led MES from 2016 until 2020 and was paid one year’s salary of about $233,000 in a “severance” payment approved by the MES board of directors.

McGrath previously held positions as a senior advisor and deputy chief of staff to Hogan and worked on the former governor’s campaigns.

Before Hogan became governor, McGrath spent 18 years with the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

McGrath lived in Edgewater at the time he worked for Hogan; he’s since moved to Florida.

Baltimore Banner reporter Andy Kostka contributed to this article.