A senior Treasury Department employee is accused of leaking financial documents to the media related to targets of the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, federal prosecutors say. Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, who has several years of experience investigating financial crimes and dealings as part of the U.S. intelligence community, was arrested and charged on October 16, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a press release.
Edwards, who is alternatively referenced as “Natalie Sours,” “Natalie May Edwards,” and “May Edwards,” in the press release, has been charged with conspiracy and unauthorized disclosure of “suspicious activity reports,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in the press release. The documents are connected to several of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s targets, including Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Maria Butina, prosecutors said. A 40-year-old Virginia resident, Edwards has most recently worked in the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
“Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior-level FinCEN employee, allegedly betrayed her position of trust by repeatedly disclosing highly sensitive information contained in suspicious activity reports (SARs) to an individual not authorized to receive them,” Berman said in a statement. “SARs, which are filed confidentially by banks and other financial institutions to alert law enforcement to potentially illegal transactions, are not public documents, and it is an independent federal crime to disclose them outside of one’s official duties. We hope today’s charges remind those in positions of trust within government agencies that the unlawful sharing of sensitive documents will not be tolerated and will be met with swift justice by this office.”
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Edwards Is Accused of Leaking Financial Documents to BuzzFeed, but She Told She Did So for ‘Record Keeping’ Because She Is a ‘Whistleblower’
According to The Washington Post, the case against Edwards centers around several disclosures she made to BuzzFeed News, which described “suspicious activity reports” that the public was not supposed to be privy to. These articles include the following reports from BuzzFeed News: “Secret Finding: 60 Russian Payments ‘To Finance Election Campaign of 2016,'” “Here’s How a Major Western Bank Enabled a Suspected Russian Money Launderer” and “Investigators Are Scrutinizing Newly Uncovered Payments by the Russian Embassy.”
In an interview with FBI agents, Edwards defined her motives as “record keeping,” and claimed that she is a “whistleblower,” according to the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors.
The report reads, “During the interview described herein, EDWARDS told the Interviewing Agents, in sum and substance, that she is a ‘whistleblower’ who provided the SARs to Reporter-1 for ‘record keeping.’ Based on my participation in this investigation and my conversations with other law enforcement agents, I am aware that, prior to the SARs Disclosures, EDWARDS had previously filed a whistleblower complaint unrelated to the SARs Disclosures, and that EDWARDS had also reached out to congressional staffers regarding, among other things, her unrelated whistleblower complaint.”
According to court documents, Edwards was arrested on Tuesday with a flash drive on hand containing SARs, as well as the phone she used to contact the unidentified BuzzFeed reporter. Edwards reportedly exchanged over 300 messages with the unidentified reporter. While court documents do not name the reporter, he has been identified by the New York Times and other media outlets as Jason Leopold, an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed News. Leopold and BuzzFeed have declined to comment about Edwards’ arrest.
You can read the full criminal complaint below:
2. She Previously Worked for the ATF & the Office of National Intelligence, Investigating National Security Matters
According to her LinkedIn, Edwards has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Virginia Commonwealth University. She was a senior specialist at ATF, a “unique law enforcement agency in the United State Department of Justice that protects our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products,” for two years.”
Edwards’ LinkedIn bio reads,
“Dr. Edwards is the first Native American Indian whose family stayed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, raised participating in tribal affairs, and received her formal education through the Virginia public school system to earn the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. As an All-American–All-Academic softball player, she earned her B.S. in Biology & Medical Studies, minors in criminal justice/chemistry/physics. As a High School Biology and Physics teacher, she coached various sports, and volunteered for the Special Olympics. At VCU, she served as the Assistant Director of Technology, Professor, and developed Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
Her Federal Service consists of the Department of Justice, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Intelligence Community, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She has established and directed highly successful, multi-million dollar programs, operational deployments, negotiated proposals/contracts, executed financial plans, formulated/implemented business development strategies, spearheaded congressional notifications, fostered team building, cultivated effective staff, and led organizational change. She identified, led the development, and implemented the IC HCES program, which she briefed to Congress. The IC HCES is comprised of all 17 Intelligence Agencies as well as the Under Secretary of Defense (USDI) and the Department of Defense (DoD). The IC HCES promotes shared services across the IC enabling innovation, collaboration, and agility to facilitate idea, resource, and information sharing to enable mission execution and promote best practices.
Her achievements are indicative of her proven senior leadership ability to implement organization-wide initiatives, drive innovative change, capitalize on collaborative/integrated network partnerships across the Intelligence Community/Federal Government/International with targeted insight and attention to detail requisite to make vision real.”
Edwards worked for the Chesterfield County Public Schools as a physics, biology and chemistry teacher from 2000 to 2005, according to her Linkedin profile. She then worked for Virginia Commonwealth Unviersity as assistant director of technology and as a professor from 2005 to 2007 while she completed her doctorate in philosophy. Edwards started working at the ATF in 2007 as a senior specialist, a job she held until 2010. She then worked in the U.S. Government as a deputy director from 2010 to 2014. It is not clear from her Linkedin profile what agency she was working for at that time. She was hired in 2014 by the Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network as senior advisor, a position she held up until her arrest.
3. Edwards’ Social Media Reflects Criticism of Hillary Clinton & Support for Justice Brett Kavanaugh
Edwards’ Facebook reveals several anti-Hillary Clinton posts, as well as a lengthy Facebook post detailing her frustration with the public’s handling of the Christine Blasey Ford/Kavanaugh hearings (as seen above.) She wrote, “As a woman, watching the hearings, I believe something happened to Dr. Ford, but I do not believe it was by the person she claims. False accusations should be charged and/or handled accordingly. This man has been accused of ‘criminal’ activity on the national stage. Criminal activity that has no evidence or corroboration, no location, no timeline. I would have come out swinging as he did if I had been accused of a ‘criminal’ activity I know I did not commit.”
Edwards added, “Next time a woman’s son calls and says ‘mom I was at a party and have been accused of doing something sexually that I didn’t do”, is the standard set now that her response should be “I’m sorry son but I believe her until you prove otherwise’?”
In another post, Edwards shared a photo that reads:
“A plane carrying Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis is about to crash, but there are only three parachutes.
The first passenger yells, ‘I’m Bernie Sanders, everyone gets a free parachute,’ and jumps.
The second passenger, Hillary Clinton, runs by screaming, ‘I’m the second smartest woman in the world and the next President of the United States of America.’ She grabs the second parachute and jumps.
The third passenger, Donald Trump, looks at General Mattis and says, ‘Sir, you’re a war hero. Take the last parachute.’ Mad Dog smiles and replies, ‘It’s ok Don, there’s parachutes left for both of us. The world’s smartest woman just took my backpack.'”
In another Facebook post, Edwards shared a meme that implied she doesn’t like Republicans or Democrats. The meme shows a “patriot” dragging away an elephant and a donkey, both dressed in suits, which are the symbols of the two major parties. The meme states, “It’s time to remind Congress.” Edwards has also shared several pro-police, “Blue Lives Matter,” and pro-military memes.
On Facebook, she wrote that her job is to “make people feel safe,” and said in her bio, “Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”
4. Edwards, Who Is Married, Is Involved in a Virginia Native American Tribe
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, who goes by May Edwards, was born Natalie Mayflower Sours in Virginia. Her family descends from a Native American tribe that received state recognition in 1983 and federal recognition earlier this year, the Chickahominy people. According to her Facebook page, she is involved in the tribe and helps organize and promote its events.
“With our 67th Pow-Wow approaching, I wanted to provide a history lesson of “Our People” since the educational system decided to remove it from the books. As many in my family before me, it is my (our) responsibility as crowned Miss Chickahominy to educate others about our heritage. We travel across the state, across state lines, and beyond the country borders to spread the truth of our people. We are NOT/NOT extinct or eradicated,” she wrote on Facebook.
Edwards is married and lives in Quinton, Virginia. She has been placed on leave from her Treasury Department job.
5. Edwards Faces Up to 10 Years in Prison, If She’s Found Guilty of the Charges Against Her
Edwards is charged with two counts: one count of unauthorized disclosures of suspicious activity reports and one count of conspiracy to make unauthorized disclosures of suspicious activity reports. According to the Justice Department, each of these counts could carry a maximum sentence of five years in jail.
Edwards was booked into the Alexandria, Virginia, jail following her arrest, and made her first court appearance Wednesday in the Eastern District of Virginia federal court. According to CNN, she was released on a $100,000 personal recognizance bond into the custody of her parents. Her attorney, peter Greenspan, did not comment after the hearing, CNN reports. She is scheduled to appear in federal court in Manhattan, where the case will be heard, on November 2.
“Our criminal investigators have been at the center of this investigation as a core part of our responsibility to detect and prevent threats to the integrity and efficiency of Treasury programs and operations,” Treasury Department Inspector General Eric Thorson said in a statement. “We are committed to working with our law enforcement partners and with FinCEN and other Treasury officials, and appreciate their cooperation and support.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney Jr. said in a statement, “In her position, Edwards was entrusted with sensitive government information. As we allege here today, Edwards violated that trust when she made several unauthorized disclosures to the media. Today’s action demonstrates that those who fail to protect the integrity of government information will be rightfully held accountable for their behavior.”
Prosecutors say Edwards “falsely denied” knowing that the SARs she disclosed would be published to the press, and in a prior interview she denied having any contacts with the press. She has not made a public statement in the wake of her arrest.
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