Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, a senior government official who blew the whistle on money laundering in major Western banks, has been released from federal prison this evening, after spending about five months behind bars for disclosing government documents to a journalist.
Edwards was released about a month earlier than expected. She will be on probation for three years.
Edwards, while working for the US Treasury Department, shared a trove of confidential documents with BuzzFeed News, prompting an international investigation that showed how some of the world’s largest financial institutions facilitated the work of terrorists, kleptocrats, and drug kingpins.
Those records formed the basis of the FinCEN Files, an investigative series produced by a partnership among more than 100 news organizations that offered an unprecedented view of global corruption. The journalists used thousands of “suspicious activity reports,” secret Treasury Department documents provided by Edwards, to reveal staggering sums of dirty money flowing through the banks.
The stories prompted significant changes in the financial industry and were credited with giving a final push to the most substantial revision to anti–money laundering laws in decades. The stories were a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s highest honor.
Unlike more celebrated whistleblowers, Edwards may not be familiar to most Americans. The Washington Post has called her “one of the most important whistleblowers of our era, and yet hardly anyone remembers her name.”
After Edwards was sentenced, BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Mark Schoofs called on President Joe Biden to pardon her. “The Biden administration should acknowledge — in word and in deed — that individuals who reveal information of vital public importance are not criminals,” Schoofs wrote in a New York Times opinion piece. “They are patriots who deserve our gratitude.”
Edwards says she released the documents to BuzzFeed News reporter Jason Leopold after trying in vain to raise alarms at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, a branch of the Treasury Department. Prosecutors, however, said that Edwards was “blinded by her own apparent sense of self-righteousness” and called the disclosure “unparalleled in FinCEN’s history.”
Mounting a legal defense cost Edwards and her husband, Dave, their home, their car, their health insurance, and most of their savings. Edwards maintains that she was acting in the interest of the American people.
“This chapter is officially closed,” Edwards told BuzzFeed News shortly after she left prison. “I will not be silenced anymore. My story will be told.”