Court Battles

Former US Treasury official sentenced to six months in prison for leaking documents

Former senior Treasury official Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards on Thursday was sentenced to six months in prison for giving thousands of confidential reports related to special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion investigation to multiple news outlets around the world.

Edwards, who worked for the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), was charged in 2018 with leaking confidential financial reports to media outlets like BuzzFeed News. Edwards’s actions were discovered when agents from the Treasury Inspector General’s office detected “a pattern” of unauthorized media disclosures beginning in October 2017.

U.S. District Court Judge Gregory Woods granted prosecutors’ request that Edwards be given the minimum sentence of six months, Politico reports. Edwards’s attorney, Stephanie Carvlin, had asked for a “time served” sentence, Politico notes, appearing to refer to the day Edwards spent in custody following her arrest in 2018. 

“A meaningful sentence is needed in order to respond to the crime,” Woods said at the hearing, which had been delayed for about a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The judge ordered Edwards to report to prison on August 2.

Edwards pleaded guilty in 2020 to conspiring to violate the Bank Secrecy Act.

“I understand and accept that a lot of information was made available to the public. I do apologize for that, your honor,” Edwards said in a statement to the court, which Politico notes was largely unrepentant.

“The colossal, mammoth effect of this defendant’s crime is unparalleled in the history of FinCEN,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Ravener argued in court. “You have an individual who acted indiscriminately to disclose confidential government information.”

Politico reports that Edwards’s attorney asked Woods to consider the positive effects of her actions, pointing to legislation passed by Congress that requires companies to report their true ownership.

“I’m not saying Dr. Edwards deserves credit for that, judge,” Carvlin said. “If we’re going to look at the horribles that might flow from that, the bad, we should also look at the benefits that flow from what she did.”

Jason Leopold, the BuzzFeed News reporter Edwards had been in contact with, spoke out against her sentencing on Thursday.

“Natalie May Edwards is a brave whistleblower,” Leopold wrote, echoing an official statement from BuzzFeed News. “Thanks to her bravery, BuzzFeed News & @ICIJorg were able to publish the FinCEN Files, which revealed financial corruption on a global scale. We strongly condemn her sentence today.”

Leopold was present at the sentencing hearing, Politico notes.

BuzzFeed News spokesperson Matt Mittenthal also gave a statement to Politico denouncing Edwards’s sentencing.

“BuzzFeed News supports the actions of whistleblowers and strongly condemns today’s sentence of Ms. Edwards,” Mittenthal said.

Tags Bank Secrecy Act BuzzFeed News Politico Robert Mueller United States Department of the Treasury Whistleblower

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