A bizarre subplot continues to take shape amid the disappearance of former Maryland government official Roy McGrath.
Eight days into the manhunt for the 53-year-old now living in Florida, a self-published e-book was listed for sale on Amazon and purports to tell a juicy, insider account of McGrath’s stint as chief of staff to former Gov. Larry Hogan. Even as the U.S. Marshals and FBI agents work to locate McGrath, the book’s sales have jumped.
By Tuesday evening, “Betrayed: The True Story of Roy McGrath” had reached No. 8 among Amazon’s 100 bestsellers in “Political Commentary and Opinion,” on a list that includes a Trump book by lawyer Alan Dershowitz and an audiobook by radio host Glenn Beck.
Questions swirl about the unknown author, “Ryan C. Cooper.” Is he an opportunist trying to cash in — at $4.99 per copy— on attention to McGrath’s disappearance?
Or could the author, as he claims, actually have spent two years researching and interviewing McGrath to write a tell-all of the scandal?
A spokesman for the former governor puts little stock in the book and its contents.
“In this day and age, anyone can publish a ‘book’ and repeat bizarre and baseless accusations, including fugitives from justice who are facing multiple counts of fraud,” said David Weinman, a spokesman for Hogan.
With the e-book set to publish Wednesday, The Banner received an advance copy of two chapters. Here’s what we found.
Can this book be believed?
Baltimore Banner reporters were unable to confirm some parts of the chapters or that McGrath helped write the book. The author has been vague about his own identity.
Plenty of detail in the two chapters suggests someone familiar with the people and events of the Hogan administration had a hand in the writing. But the events described have also been well-known and reported. Much from the two chapters could have been reconstructed from news articles, court documents or a state audit.
One person named in an excerpt disputed the account, recalling a conversation differently.
The book could be authentic, or a hoax to cash in on current events.
What does the book say about events at the center of McGrath’s criminal charges?
McGrath was charged with wire fraud and theft related to an accusation that he misled officials at the Maryland Environmental Service to spend more than $233,000 on his severance when he left to join the governor’s team, by implying that Hogan supported the payout.
Maryland Environmental Service board members have testified that they felt misled by McGrath. They didn’t want to pay out the severance at an uncertain financial time in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in June 2020, but felt they could not risk crossing the governor.
McGrath has repeatedly insisted he had Hogan’s blessing and put forward a memo that he purported showed the governor signing off. Prosecutors claim that memo was faked, and that led to an additional criminal charge.
In the book, the author describes a scene between Hogan and McGrath that sounds like it takes place in the Governor’s Reception Room, a large room next to the governor’s office in the State House that’s used for a variety of purposes. Over lunch, Hogan offered the chief of staff job to McGrath, the book claims.
The author describes McGrath telling Hogan that he was making 10% more at MES than the chief of staff’s position paid and that a severance package from MES worth one year’s salary would help make up the difference.
The author writes: “Hogan liked the idea, but told Roy, great, just keep me out of it. I don’t have any authority over MES.”
The author continues: “Roy said he understood and would handle it himself with MES. He would tell MES that Hogan ‘anticipated’ the arrangement, not approved of it, as Hogan had asked him to do.”
Even as described in the book, it’s open to interpretation how much Hogan actually supported a severance package. The book doesn’t offer any open-and-shut evidence that Hogan knew the details.
In McGrath’s federal trial, Hogan was due to be a witness and likely would have described his own recollection of what was discussed — or not discussed — when McGrath took the job.
What does the book say about Gov. Hogan’s handling of COVID-19 test kits?
The book outlines the scramble to acquire COVID-19 tests in the early part of the pandemic when they were scarce.
The book accurately says the tests arrived from South Korea and were swept away from the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport tarmac by the Maryland National Guard and others for safe keeping. The tests soon proved problematic, and the Hogan administration replaced them by using additional millions in taxpayer dollars. Though, at the time, Hogan sought to portray the switch as an upgrade.
Much of this was eventually reported by the news media and a state audit, which found the administration overpaid for the tests and most weren’t used.
The book seeks to add some details, however, about pushback from administration officials, who wanted the kits tested before purchase and wanted to abandon their use when labs were struggling to produce swift and proper results. But Fran Phillips, a former deputy health secretary, says portrayals were not accurate, even if the early days were frenzied as officials worked to secure tests and other supplies.
“We wanted all the tests we could get,” she said.
The book also seeks to inject, without any evidence, a lot of added bluster into the tarmac scene, with the author claiming Hogan “passed down his clear and direct order to hold their ground, by armed force if necessary.”
The tests went to a warehouse without incident.
“It’s a curious thing this book should come out now with all the legal issues Mr. McGrath is involved with,” Phillips said. “It’s a flashback to years ago, and fortunately we’re a healthier state at this time and we understand so much more about COVID.”
What do we know about the author?
In a phone call Monday, Ryan. C. Cooper described himself as a semi-retired man who moved from Hagerstown to Florida. He had followed news of the criminal case and sympathized with McGrath.
When asked for information to corroborate his identity, such as a birthday or full middle name, he declined, saying, “This is Roy’s story, and I’m just a tool to help him get it out.”
He also did not respond to requests that he share communications with McGrath to corroborate that they worked together on the book.
The ambiguity around the identity of “Ryan C. Cooper” has led to speculation that he could be the missing McGrath. During the phone call, he brushed off that theory. To a reporter, at least, he did not sound like Roy McGrath.
“I just thought that the dots didn’t all add up. When I did more reading about it, I thought maybe I’ll reach out to him. We got to talking,” the author said.
He said McGrath had already started writing hundreds of pages of a manuscript. That’s corroborated by a 2021 interview with The Washington Post in which McGrath mentions writing a book.
The author said he offered to help and they discussed edits during several Zoom calls. They planned to publish the book, “Betrayed: The True Story of Roy McGrath,” for Kindle after the trial. But when McGrath went missing, the author hurried to finish and publish the book.
The author said he last spoke to McGrath in January.
“He was very confident about the legal process, and I think he felt good about the work we were doing and he was making a new life for himself. … He was very happy with his situation in Florida,” the author said. “I’m, frankly, worried about him. If you know him or if you’ve read up on him, you would know that he is not the kind of guy who just goes missing, a very strait-laced or responsible person. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
When McGrath didn’t show for his federal trial in Baltimore last week, the judge issued a warrant for his arrest. Federal authorities said it was unlike him to be absent and unreachable. FBI agents in Baltimore placed a concerned phone call to sheriff’s deputies near Naples, Florida, where McGrath lives.
“We’re concerned that something may have happened,” an FBI agent said in a recording obtained by The Baltimore Banner. “He doesn’t have any kind of violent criminal past, but we are concerned he may have committed suicide at this point.”
In McGrath’s gated community, law enforcement came and went last week. A neighbor’s cellphone video showed officers in tactical equipment approaching McGrath’s house with their guns drawn. They led his wife, Laura Bruner, into the street. A source with knowledge of the investigation said officers seized her cellphone. She has not been accused of a crime.
The U.S. Marshals Service circulated a “wanted” poster with photos of McGrath in a business suit. A marshals spokesman said authorities were interviewing McGrath’s neighbors and family.
In the days since, authorities have declined questions about the search. There remains no indication they have any leads to McGrath’s whereabouts.