Natalie Mayflower Sours
|Other names||May Edwards|
|Education||North Carolina Wesleyan College (B.S.)|
Virginia Commonwealth University (M.Ed., Ph.D.)
|Occupation||Senior official at Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)|
|Employer||United States Treasury|
|Known for||Disclosing suspicious activity reports (SARs) from October 2017 to October 2018 to BuzzFeed News some of which became the basis for the FinCEN Files|
|Conviction(s)||Unlawfully Disclosing Suspicious Activity Reports|
|Criminal charge||Unlawfully Disclosing Suspicious Activity Reports|
|Penalty||6 months in prison and three years of supervised release|
She was arrested on October 16, 2018, for disclosing over 2000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) and other confidential information from October 2017 to October 2018 detailing Russia's involvement in the 2016 presidential election to a reporter with BuzzFeed News, which published the series "The Money Trail". The SARs included money transfers and information about Maria Butina, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, the Russian Embassy in the United States, and a Russian firm, Prevezon Alexander, LLC., involved with money laundering.
The Wall Street Journal identified the BuzzFeed News reporter as Jason Leopold. Edwards allegedly sent Leopold internal FinCEN emails, investigative memos and intelligence assessments, and the two were in regular contact. The New York Times characterized Edwards' case as procedurally different from that of James Wolfe, even though both cases involved leaking to reporters.
In June 2021, she was sentenced to serve six months in prison and three years of supervised release, a sentence on the higher end of the relevant federal sentencing guidelines. Throughout her sentencing hearing, Edwards maintained that she was acting as a whistleblower and that she did not choose to leak over 50,000 documents to the media, including 2000 suspicious activity reports, with malicious intent. Her counsel argued that she had gone through whistleblower channels and leaked information only after she had been the subject of retaliation and believed that leaking the information to the media would "help the American people", while prosecutors argued that "there has never been any substantive evidence of her claims" that she went through the proper internal channels and that Edwards lacked remorse for her decision to leak confidential information. BuzzFeed News Editor-in-Chief Mark Schoofs later called the conviction and sentencing of Edward in an opinion piece for the New York Times “unjust and unfair." And said "Our criminal justice system must recognize that much of what we know about financial corruption, government surveillance and corporate crime comes not from reporters working in isolation but from journalists working with people who risk their liberty and livelihood to ensure that the truth comes out.”
Role of WhatsApp
Edwards conveyed the information to Jason Leopold via WhatsApp, which she inaccurately believed to be secure; in fact, the data that the FBI obtained from WhatsApp helped the FBI secure Edward's conspiracy conviction.
- Burke, Caroline (October 17, 2018). "Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know". Heavy.com. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
- "Former Senior Fincen Employee Pleads Guilty To Conspiring To Unlawfully Disclose Suspicious Activity Reports". United States Department of Justice. January 13, 2020.
- Larkin, Emilee (June 3, 2021). "Document Leak Puts Ex-Treasury Official Away 6 Months". Courthouse News Service.
- "VCU Fall Commencement Program 2007" (pdf). Virginia Commonwealth University. Retrieved September 25, 2020.
- Rosenkrantz, Holly (October 17, 2018). "Treasury official charged with leaking records related to Russia probe". CBS News. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
- Re, Gregg (October 18, 2018). "Treasury employee charged with leaking financial info on Trump team was arrested with flash drive in hand, prosecutors say". Fox News. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
- "The Money Trail". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
- Flitter, Emily (October 17, 2018). "Treasury Official Charged With Leaking Bank Reports to Journalist". New York Times. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
- "Treasury official pleads not guilty in leaking case". WDIV. January 31, 2019. Retrieved January 31, 2019.
- Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Aruna Viswanatha (October 17, 2018). "Treasury Official Charged With Leaking Sensitive Bank Information to Reporter". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved June 4, 2020.
The BuzzFeed reporter, who isn’t identified in the charges, is recognizable as Jason Leopold, who was listed as an author on all 12 articles cited in the complaint.
- Emily Flitter (October 17, 2018). "Treasury Official Charged With Leaking Bank Reports to Journalist". The New York Times. Retrieved June 4, 2020.
James A. Wolfe, denies that he distributed classified materials, and the Justice Department has not charged him with leaking information. The case against Ms. Edwards is different. Disclosing suspicious activity reports to anyone who is unauthorized to see them is against the law, and the reports seldom — if ever — make their way into the public domain. When questioned by investigators, Ms. Edwards did not deny having shared them
- Re, Gregg (January 13, 2020). "Ex-Treasury employee pleads guilty to leaking Trump team info, after dramatic bust with flash drive in hand". Fox News.
- "Former Senior FinCEN Employee Sentenced To Six Months In Prison For Unlawfully Disclosing Suspicious Activity Reports". June 3, 2021. Archived from the original on June 3, 2021.
- Haynes, Danielle (June 3, 2021). "Former Treasury official sentenced for leaking financial reports". United Press International.
- Betz, Bradford (June 3, 2021). "Ex-Treasury employee who leaked Manafort docs sentenced to six months in prison". Fox News. Associated Press.
- Mack, David (June 3, 2021). "A Former Treasury Official Was Sentenced To 6 Months In Prison For Giving Documents To BuzzFeed News". BuzzFeed News.
- Stempel, Jonathan (June 3, 2021). "Ex-Treasury employee gets prison for leaks on Trump campaign officials". Reuters.
- NEUMEISTER, Larry (June 3, 2021). "Ex-Treasury worker sentenced to 6 months in 'leak' case". Associated Press.
- Mack, David (June 3, 2021). "A Former Treasury Official Was Sentenced To 6 Months In Prison For Giving Documents To BuzzFeed News". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
- Jim Salter (September 8, 2021). "WhatsApp "end-to-end encrypted" messages aren't that private after all". Ars Technica. Retrieved September 8, 2021.
metadata is present in these PMPs, we do know it's highly valuable to law enforcement. In one particularly high-profile 2018 case, whistleblower and former Treasury Department official Natalie Edwards was convicted of leaking confidential banking reports to BuzzFeed via WhatsApp which she incorrectly believed to be "secure." [...] the data helped secure a conviction and six-month prison sentence for conspiracy.