On a summer Sunday almost three years ago, then-Gov. Larry Hogan received a phone call from his lawyer about a brewing scandal.
Hogan’s new top aide, Roy McGrath, had negotiated a $200,000 payout when he left the Maryland Environmental Service earlier that summer for the governor’s office. McGrath negotiated the deal under the pretext that the governor had given his blessing. But a board member of the environmental service called the governor’s lawyer, Michael Pedone, with concerns.
“The August 2 call with Mr. Pedone is the first time I learned any details of the severance package,” Hogan wrote in an affidavit. “I was surprised by the amount.”
The governor felt concerned enough to call McGrath into his office the next day to discuss the matter. But it appears Hogan took no further action for 10 days — until the first news article brought attention to the payout. Within days, McGrath resigned under pressure.
These details were revealed for the first time in the governor’s affidavit and other documents included in the state prosecutor’s case for criminal charges against McGrath. The documents were obtained Wednesday by The Baltimore Banner under the Maryland Public Information Act. They shed new light on the early days of the scandal — what the governor knew, and when he knew it.
But the documents only paint a limited picture: Key evidence from the state case is excluded, as is information gathered after federal prosecutors opened their yet-to-be concluded investigation in tandem with the state prosecutor.
The Office of the State Prosecutor released the documents because of McGrath’s April 3 death during an encounter with federal agents outside Knoxville, Tennessee. They closed the case last month as abated by death.
In the September 2020 affidavit, Hogan recounts calling McGrath into his office on Aug. 3 to discuss the matter.
“He made statements to the effect that the MES board of directors had offered him a severance package equal to one year’s salary, and that this was the same severance package provided by MES to prior executive directors,” Hogan wrote.
In his affidavit, Hogan makes no mention of whether he asked McGrath about claims the governor approved the payout. Hogan has maintained, including in the affidavit, that he had no prior knowledge of the details of the severance and did not approve it. He was expected to be a trial witness.
“The affidavit confirms that what Governor Hogan has said publicly since 2020 matches what he also said privately,” Hogan’s attorney, Christopher Mincher, said in a statement Wednesday.
Mincher’s statement also said that Hogan “immediately ordered an internal investigation” into the severance. Hogan’s affidavit made no mention of an internal investigation, though he had previously made broad comments about attempts to learn more about the severance.
Board member raised concerns
The Sunday phone call from the governor’s lawyer to Hogan stemmed from a board member for the environmental service. Joseph F. Snee Jr., a longtime board member, had called the governor’s lawyer “to express concerns about Mr. McGrath,” Hogan wrote in the affidavit.
Snee had told the governor’s lawyer that McGrath claimed Hogan approved of the severance. Snee also told state investigators that the severance arrangement had “fundamental differences” with payouts that were made to prior executive directors who had departed the environmental service under different circumstances. One was a longtime executive director who retired and the other was terminated, Snee told investigators. McGrath, however, was voluntarily leaving the environmental service after only a couple years for another job in state government.
Board members were “very uncomfortable” with McGrath’s deal, Snee told state investigators, who summarized his statements in an application for a search warrant of McGrath’s home in Edgewater.
In an interview Wednesday night, Snee said that members of the Maryland Environmental Service board were uncertain about whether to approve McGrath’s request for a severance payment. But when McGrath represented to them that the governor approved and expected it, board members felt obligated to give their approval.
As time went by, though, Snee grew increasingly uncomfortable with the severance payment. He wondered if the governor’s office knew what McGrath had said about Hogan’s supposed approval.
“Sometimes you just rethink things, and I rethought it, and I just didn’t have a good feeling,” Snee recalled. While on a summer beach vacation, he placed a call to Pedone, the governor’s chief counsel, to share his thoughts.
Snee, a lawyer in Harford County, said he didn’t have any expectations about what Pedone and the governor’s office would do with the information. He doesn’t remember anyone from the governor’s team following up with him.
“I don’t recall anyone getting back to me,” Snee said. “It was just: ‘I don’t feel good about this and here’s why.’ That was it, as far as I knew.”
In hindsight, Snee wishes that he had called the governor’s office to double-check McGrath’s statements about the governor’s support for the severance — even though the board had no reason to believe McGrath would mislead them. And he regrets that the important work done by the Maryland Environmental Service has been overshadowed by the scandal.
“One person tarnished the entire agency and it’s just a shame,” Snee said.
Phones, computers, tablets taken in search
The records released to The Baltimore Banner also included documents related to the September 2020 search of McGrath’s home.
Maryland State Police took four cellphones, three tablets, two laptop computers and “miscellaneous documents” from the dining room and an office.
The search warrant indicated that McGrath was under investigation only for potential criminal charges of fraud and misconduct at the time. They later brought charges of wiretapping against McGrath, alleging he secretly recorded nine meetings and conversations, including some with Hogan.
Maryland’s wiretapping law prohibits the recording of conversations without the consent of all parties.
The Office of the State Prosecutor did not release the recordings that they allege McGrath secretly made between March and August of 2020. The office also withheld records related to interviews they conducted with witnesses in the case.
Federal prosecutors also charged McGrath with wire fraud, theft and falsifying records, but he skipped out on his trial the day it was to begin in Baltimore in March.
McGrath evaded FBI agents and U.S. Marshals for three weeks until authorities confronted him April 3 the suburbs of Knoxville, Tennessee. He died in what authorities are calling an “agent-involved shooting.” It remains unknown if McGrath died of suicide or was shot and killed by agents. Tennessee authorities sealed his autopsy while the federal investigation continues. Records related to the federal investigation remain sealed.
The FBI has provided no explanation for McGrath’s whereabouts during those weeks. Two weeks into the manhunt, authorities offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Still, clues have surfaced that he planned to flee and that it wasn’t impulsive. He didn’t buy a plane ticket or make a reservation to fly out on the morning of March 13 when he was due in federal court, FBI agents wrote in a search warrant.
McGrath also appears to have kept his plan from his wife. She told Florida sheriff’s deputies that she expected him to fly to Baltimore early that morning. Federal agents tracked McGrath through multiple cellphones he was using.
And questions continue to surround two e-books that published online while McGrath was missing and purport to share his account of the alleged crimes.
Nine days after McGrath skipped his court hearing, a self-published e-book titled “Betrayed: The True Story of Roy McGrath” went on sale online. The unknown author, who gave the name “Ryan C. Cooper,” claimed the book was based on McGrath’s own manuscript and their interviews from previous months. The book jumped to No. 4 among Amazon’s 100 bestsellers in “Political Commentary & Opinion.”
A sequel published one week later recounted McGrath’s time at the Maryland Environmental Service.
The author has shown no activity online and not responded to phone calls or emails since McGrath’s death and a promised third book never arrived. Speculation has swirled that Cooper was actually McGrath.
This article has been updated to include comments from former Maryland Environmental Service board member Joseph F. Snee Jr.