FinCEN Files Whistleblower Now In Prison
On 3 September, the former US Treasury Department official responsible for sending suspicious activity reports (SARs) to Buzzfeed News after lawful channels failed to act, entered Federal Prison Camp, Alderson in West Virginia. Her actions are the basis for the global FinCEN Files investigation and report. She is sentanced to six months in the federal prison.
Natalie “May” Edwards’ decision to leak a trove of highly confidential government documents to BuzzFeed News prompted a massive investigation that exposed how dirty money moves through the global banking system and helped spur legislative action in the US and beyond — reported to Federal Prison Camp, Alderson, on Friday morning to begin her six-month sentence. The minimum-security prison is where Martha Stewart and Billie Holiday both served time.
But many across the US are not familiar with Edwards. Labeling her “the forgotten whistleblower,” the Washington Post described her in July as “one of the most important whistleblowers of our era, and yet hardly anyone remembers her name.”
Despite losing her freedom and most, if not all, of her family’s finances waging a legal fight, Edwards maintained she had no regrets, believing her actions will help thwart future criminals and terrorists.
I'm absolutely proud of what I did, and I know American lives have been saved
-Natalie “May” Edwards
Her husband, Dave Edwards, said he believed his wife was a political prisoner and that prosecutors had set out to destroy his family in order to set an example. “You’re sentencing her to prison because you don’t want other whistleblowers to come forward. I see how this works,” he said. “She’s a 43-year-old mother of a 16-year-old girl who has lost everything. What crime is she going to commit by being in home incarceration?”
“This is a personal vendetta against her,” he said. “You’re gonna put away a lady that got no money, that had no motive other than accountability, that lost everything — now she’s gonna lose her freedom for six months. All so you can stop people coming forward. You’re the ones who are gonna have to look into the mirror.”
Edwards received her sentence in June after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to make unauthorized disclosures of suspicious activity reports, also known as SARs. Banks file these documents to the federal government to alert authorities of potential criminal activity.
But the investigation by BuzzFeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which involved more than 100 news organizations in 88 countries, revealed how banks file SARs and then continue to process and profit off suspicious payments, thereby facilitating criminal activity while enriching themselves and shareholders. The US government collects the SARs, but does not force the banks to shut the money laundering down.
But the FinCEN series was not released until nearly a year after Edwards was arrested. Prosecutors charged her in connection with a dozen BuzzFeed News stories from 2017 and 2018 that cited SARs and that covered, among other things, the investigation of former special counsel Robert Mueller and the FBI probe into Trump 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort.
Edwards has maintained she leaked the documents to BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold in a bid to expose corruption after trying in vain to work through official channels. “I did this for the American people,” she said in an interview. “My motive was accountability, and the American people had a right to know what was occurring within Treasury and that it was a national security issue and that American lives were in jeopardy.”
Instead of the government doing their job, they decided to come after a whistleblower
-Natalie “May” Edwards
Prosecutors countered that Edwards acted “indiscriminately” with her leaks and was “blinded by her own apparent sense of self-righteousness.” They also described her disclosures as “unparalleled in FinCEN’s history,” having sent approximately 50,000 documents, including 2,000 SARs, to Leopold over the course of a year and running searches within internal systems at his request.
Almost 5,000 people have since signed an online petition calling for Edwards to be pardoned. The White House has given no indication Biden intends to do so, despite the president signing a memorandum on June 3 — the day Edwards was sentenced — vowing to make fighting corruption, particularly in the financial world, a national security priority.
“Ms. Edwards is a whistleblower whose brave actions exposed financial corruption on a global scale. For helping to bring about tougher regulations in the US and other countries, she should be celebrated, not punished,” said Ariel Kaminer, BuzzFeed News’s executive editor for investigations. “President Biden promised to fight corruption. Now is the time for him to acknowledge her courage and patriotism by granting her a pardon.”
Following her arrest, and as a result of legal expenses, Edwards and her husband said they have lost their home, car, and health insurance. “The impact from a financial standpoint has been devastating,” Dave Edwards said. “It has drained her accounts, her savings — everything.”
Dave Edwards said he believed the severe financial strain was the government’s intended punishment. “It has nothing to do with her leaving our family for six months; it has everything to do with prosperity,” he said.
Physically, Edwards is also deeply concerned by the extremely contagious COVID-19 Delta variant and how she might be impacted by it given her hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and asthma.
The night before she was due to report to prison, Edwards dined with her parents, Birdie and Woody Sours, on a meal of her favorite foods: heaped plates of scallops, Alaskan snow crab legs, potatoes, and buttered corn. Her husband was to go to the gym to work out some stress, then the two planned to watch a movie together, before grabbing some rest and starting their early morning drive to West Virginia.
Edwards’ daughter had been sent away on a beach holiday with friends — her parents were concerned the emotional goodbye would be too much. The mother and daughter had spent their last few days together chatting as the teen drove them around with her new driver’s license. Edwards told her they’d need to be “pen pals” for the next little while, which her daughter found to be a laughably ancient concept.