Former Treasury official who leaked records to BuzzFeed reporter released from prison
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards was released from prison on Jan. 24, 2022, after being sentenced in June 2020 to six months imprisonment and three years of supervised release for leaking government documents to a Buzzfeed News reporter, the site reported.
Edwards was released about a month earlier than anticipated, and will be on probation for three years.
Buzzfeed News published the FinCen Files, an investigation into suspicious banking transactions by foreign diplomats and associates of then-President Donald Trump, from October 2017 through October 2018, using documents Edwards shared with Buzzfeed reporter Jason Leopold.
After Edwards’ sentencing, Buzzfeed News editor-in-chief Mark Schoofs called on the Biden administration to pardon her, writing in a New York Times opinion piece that whistleblowers “are patriots who deserve our gratitude.”
“This chapter is officially closed,” Edwards told Buzzfeed News after leaving prison. “I will not be silenced anymore. My story will be told.”
Former Treasury official sentenced to six months in prison for leaking records to BuzzFeed reporter
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, an official in the U.S. Treasury’s financial crimes division, known as FinCEN, was sentenced to six months in prison for giving details about suspicious banking transactions to BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold, the outlet reported.
From October 2017 through October 2018, BuzzFeed News published a series of investigations into suspicious banking transactions made by Russian diplomats and associates of then-President Donald Trump, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. These BuzzFeed News investigations were largely based on so-called “Suspicious Activity Reports” — confidential reports that financial institutions are required to file to alert FinCEN of potential money laundering and other suspicious banking transactions.
Edwards was arrested on Oct. 16, 2018 and charged with one count of unauthorized disclosures of SARs and one count of conspiracy to make such unauthorized disclosures; Edwards pleaded guilty to the latter charge as part of a plea deal on Jan. 13, 2020.
After her sentencing was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Edwards was sentenced to six months imprisonment and three years of supervised release on June 3, 2021. Edwards must surrender herself to the authorities by Aug. 2, according to BuzzFeed.
During the sentencing hearing, BuzzFeed reported, U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods said Edwards should have known “that violating her oath and exposing sensitive law enforcement information that could be used to help the bad guys and to tarnish the reputations and interests of innocent people was both illegal and wrong.”
Edwards publicly stated that she was the source for Leopold’s reporting on corruption in the global banking system. Following the hearing, BuzzFeed spokesperson Matt Mittenthal issued a statement condemning her sentence.
“Edwards is a brave whistleblower who fought to warn the public about grave risks to America's national security, first through the official whistleblower process, and then through the press. She did so, despite tremendous personal risk, because she believed she owed it to the country she loves,” Mittenthal said. “BuzzFeed News has not acknowledged Ms. Edwards’ role in the project until today, after the judge sentenced her and after Edwards herself gave permission to acknowledge that she provided the SARs.
“BuzzFeed News strongly supports the actions of whistleblowers and condemns efforts to prosecute them for bringing the truth to light.”
Former Treasury employee pleads guilty to leaking information to a journalist
Former senior-level Treasury employee Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to unlawfully disclose financial reports on Jan. 13, 2020, in a Manhattan federal court.
While working as an official in the financial crimes division, Edwards was arrested in October 2018 and charged with one count of unauthorized disclosures of Suspicious Activity Reports and one count of conspiracy to make unauthorized disclosures of the financial reports.
The charges allege that Edwards leaked these documents to BuzzFeed News, which were then used in a series of articles concerning associates of President Donald Trump and the Mueller investigation, according to the New York Post.
In January 2019, CNBC reported that Edwards pleaded not guilty to leaking the articles, but that court documents suggested federal prosecutors and Edwards’ lawyers were discussing a possible plea deal.
Marc Agnifilo, Edwards’ attorney, told Politico this January that Edwards agreed in a plea deal not to challenge a sentence of zero to six months, but would argue for no prison time. The count to which she pleaded guilty carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Agnifilo said Edwards was motivated by a belief that the government wasn’t doing the right thing with the information.
“She was of the view that certain critical facts weren’t being handled the right way by the government agencies whose responsibility it was to handle these things,” he told Politico. “She went to the media and said if I can’t trust the government officials to handle this, I think I can trust the media to handle this and bring this to the attention of the American people.”
Edwards released on bond
On Oct. 17, 2018, Edwards appeared in court and was released on a $100,000 bond, CNN reports. She was ordered not to have any contact with the BuzzFeed journalist or with "CC-1," her former supervisor and alleged co-conspirator.
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, an official in the U.S. Treasury’s financial crimes division (FinCEN), was arrested on Oct. 16, 2018, and charged with giving details about suspicious banking transactions to a reporter at BuzzFeed News.
From October 2017 through October 2018, BuzzFeed News has published a series of investigations into suspicious banking transactions made by Russian diplomats and by Trump associates, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. These BuzzFeed News investigations were largely based on so-called “Suspicious Activity Reports” — confidential reports that financial institutions are required to file to alert FinCEN of potential money laundering and other suspicious banking transactions.
Although SARs are not classified, it is illegal to disclose them without authorization:
A Federal, State, local, territorial, or Tribal government authority, or any director, officer, employee, or agent of any of the foregoing, shall not disclose a SAR, or any information that would reveal the existence of a SAR, except as necessary to fulfill official duties consistent with Title II of the Bank Secrecy Act.
31 CFR § 1020.320(e)(2)
On Oct. 16, 2018, Edwards was arrested and charged with one count of unauthorized disclosures of SARs and one count of conspiracy to make unauthorized disclosures of SARs. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The criminal complaint against Edwards details the FBI’s investigation of her communications with Jason Leopold, an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed News. Although the complaint does not explicitly name Leopold or BuzzFeed, it specifically references articles written by him, making clear that Leopold is the journalist identified in the complaint as "Reporter-1."
According to the complaint, federal investigators used search warrants to obtain access to both Edwards’ personal email account, which allegedly revealed emails between her and Leopold, and her cellphone records, which allegedly revealed calls and text messages sent between her and Leopold. The complaint also states that federal investigators were able to determine that she and Leopold communicated over an encrypted messaging app, though it is not clear how they were able to do so.
FBI agents finally seized Edwards' phone and placed her under arrest after questioning her on October 16 about her communications with Leopold. Once they seized her phone, investigators were able to read some of the encrypted messages that she had exchanged with Leopold.
The FBI investigation of Edwards may also have exposed another one of Leopold's sources. This second source is referred to in the complaint as “CC-1” and identified as Edwards’ supervisor at FinCEN. According to the complaint, federal investigators seized this person’s phone records and found that they had also exchanged text messages, phone calls, and encrypted messages with the journalist. Unlike Edwards, this second source does not currently face any criminal charges.