A former U.S. Treasury Department worker was sentenced to six months in prison Thursday for leaking confidential financial reports to a journalist at Buzzfeed.
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards pleaded guilty last year to a conspiracy charge, admitting she leaked banking reports related to people being investigated in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of foreign interference in U.S. elections.
The government said the material included reports on Paul Manafort, former President Donald Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, along with a woman charged with trying to infiltrate U.S. political organizations as a covert Russian agent.
U.S. District Judge Gregory H. Woods gave Edwards, who was arrested in 2018, a sentence near the top of the range in federal sentencing guidelines.
Woods called her actions “illegal and wrong” and said they “made our country less safe.”
Prosecutors had requested “serious punishment” for Edwards, saying she had betrayed the public and risked hindering ongoing and future investigations. Defense lawyers urged a sentence of time served.
Edwards worked for multiple federal government agencies before serving as senior adviser to the head of the Intelligence Division at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FinCEN, a bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department responsible for safeguarding the nation’s financial system.
Prosecutors said she leaked several confidential suspicious activity reports. Banks are required to file suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department when they spot transactions that raise questions about possible financial misconduct such as money laundering.
Prosecutors said Edwards shared her information with a journalist who then shared thousands of suspicious activity reports with publications worldwide. While the journalist has not been named by prosecutors, other court documents identify him as Buzzfeed reporter Jason Leopold.
Buzzfeed and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published a trove of stories, dubbed “The FinCEN Files,” that prosecutors said were based on material obtained from Edwards.
Among other things, the stories examined regulatory failures in spotting and cracking down on international money laundering.
Before she was sentenced, Edwards spoke at length about her American Indian heritage and the influence of Indians on our founding fathers.
But she also said: “I do apologize for the disclosure of that information.”
Edwards lawyer, Stephanie M. Carvlin, argued that Edwards made her disclosures at a time when she believed people running the Treasury Department “were doing a very bad job” and sometimes violating the law.
It said she believes the department’s policies and practices were putting American lives at risk because if her department could not effectively aid law enforcement, terrorist activity might go undetected.
“These beliefs, whether misguided or directly on target, motivated her actions,” Carvlin wrote.
Prosecutors said Edwards beginning in September 2020 has used a personal twitter account to repeatedly retweet articles broadcasting the illegally disclosed information from the “FinCEN Files” along with information portraying herself as a “whistleblower.”