On September 3, 2021, Natalie Edwards’ husband, Dave, dropped her off at the Federal Prison Camp (FPC) Alderson at 10:00 a.m. Noticeably absent was their daughter, Shania, whom they spared from seeing her mother enter a United States federal prison. FPC Alderson is a minimum-security prison for female inmates in West Virginia, opened in 1928. It has housed some notable inmates to include Sara Jane Moore, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn (co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union), Martha Stewart and Billie Holiday.
Dave advised that Edwards entered a world of lockdown due to Covid-19. A world with no access to the Internet, limited phone usage and lack of media revealing current events. The first case of Covid at Alderson Prison occurred in Edward’s building during her first week of incarceration. Dave said, “I find it truly remarkable that on 9-11-21, twenty years after the most horrible terrorist event to happen to our country, my wife sits in a quarantined prison remembering that twenty years ago the slogan was, ‘if you see something, say something.’ My fiancée then, Natalie, was teaching high school physics and told me that her career goals had changed after that event, she wanted to serve her country by working for the federal government. She chose higher educational degrees crafted toward federal employment and her goal of protection of the American people. Once in government, she had different assignments that always were aimed at guarding the United States. As an ethical and honest person, Natalie saw something, and decided she had a responsibility to reveal (say something) about government corruption. Natalie was thrown in prison because she made the decision to report corruption, so apparently the ‘see something say something’ slogan only applies to a few government employees excluding those working intelligence. The fact the government had to twist the truth and slander the character of my wife, a whistleblower, is pure evil.”
Dave stated, “Although the federal judge at sentencing had said the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) would take care of my wife, the truth is my wife had all her medications taken away and has not been given a physical or any medications to replace the ones taken. Natalie has medical conditions, which are documented, that the court was aware of, which necessitates medications. Natalie feels she has been given a death sentence if she catches Covid or any other serious illness. She has not received a needed liver check, or blood work for her incurable health conditions. The federal judge and prosecutors had assured Natalie that her health conditions would be addressed, and currently, they are not.” Edwards is also not allowed her service dog at the prison.
In Part I and Part II of Natalie Edwards story in Whistleblower Network News, it was noted that Edwards was a full-blooded Chickahominy native, who told Judge Woods in June of 2021, “Your Honor, I’m an indigenous matriarch warrior whose spirit cannot be broken.” Her background and time at the CIA and Treasury were reported, and her discovery that the Treasury Department was concealing information from Congress on certain individuals and entities that appeared to be politically motivated was also covered. Now in Part III, the extent of her whistleblowing can be revealed.
Edwards worked in the Intelligence Center of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), located within the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department is the arm of the federal government that deals with money laundering, terrorist financing and other financial crimes. It collects Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) documents, a tool provided under the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) of 1970 which monitors suspicious activities that would not ordinarily be flagged under other reports (such as Currency Transaction Reports-a transaction over $10,000). When a customer initiates a transaction involving more than $10,000, most bank software will create a Currency Transaction Report (CTR) electronically. Since 1996, the SAR has become a standard form to report suspicious activity.
SARs can be filed for any activity that is out of the ordinary, if there is a suspicion that the account holder is attempting to hide something or make an illegal transaction. The Patriot Act significantly expanded SAR requirements as part of an effort to combat global and domestic terrorism. A SAR is filed with FinCEN, a division of the U.S. Treasury, who allegedly would investigate the incident.
Edwards worked at Treasury at the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA), working with international foreign partners who provided SARs from their own countries. This was done through a private secure portal under the auspices of the Egmont Group. Edwards also had to respond to Congressional Requests for Information (CRI). While accomplishing her job, Edwards saw classified names being unmasked, and insider threats of personnel who had access to data but no clearance. Edwards officially reported these occurrences, along with malfeasance by FinCEN of inadequate staffing which effected terrorism, and Treasury officials communicating with Russian officials on throwaway Gmail accounts. Attachments to the Gmail accounts, not official points of contact with FinCEN, could result in the Russian government manipulating the SARs database and introducing false information.
Edwards was also concerned about Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential race and found that the Treasury Department “was not being straight with Congress by withholding information.” Edwards asked for whistleblower protection from Congress, the Treasury IG, the Office of Special Counsel, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies. Edwards did not receive any kind of response from those in an oversight role and felt strongly that her whistleblower disclosures were critical to the American public.
Edwards was adamant that she was a whistleblower and not a leaker. She had authority to provide SARs to anyone she deemed necessary, and SARs are not classified. In July of 2017, Edwards was introduced to BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold, and over time, allowed Leopold to take possession of over 2500 documents, 2100 of which were SARs. These documents revealed the failure of financial institutions and FinCEN to address hundreds of thousands of suspicious transactions totaling over $2 trillion in activity from 1999 until 2017 (when Edwards provided the material). BuzzFeed News looked at the records and realized they had a story on worldwide money laundering. They enlisted the assistance of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) who are an independent Washington D.C.-based international network of more than 200 investigative journalists and 100 media organizations in over 70 countries. ICIJ previously revealed the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers. BuzzFeed News along with ICIJ from the information provided by Edwards revealed financial corruption on a global scale.
BuzzFeed News published information provided by Edwards in 12 articles published over a one-year period. Leopold, the BuzzFeed News reporter, led the FinCEN Files project. The 12 articles focused on suspicious financial transactions, including those linked to an ongoing probe into allegations of Russian interference in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Matt Wolking, a Trump campaign official, tried to character assassinate Edwards as part of a plot by the “deep state” to take down Trump, but that was patently false with Edwards sharing pro-Trump messages on her social media. Edwards was simply presenting her concerns and the truth that information was being mishandled by the Treasury Department, regardless of her political affiliations.
FinCEN files provided by Edwards exposed the gossamer of banking safeguards, and how criminals easily exploited the safeguards. Proceeds from drug wars, embezzled fortunes from developing countries and hard earned savings stolen from Ponzi schemes flowed in and out of financial institutions who disregarded warnings from their own employees.
Money laundering is a gateway for all kinds of crimes, fueling inequality, draining public funds, undermining democracies and destabilizing nations with banks playing a key role in this human tragedy. FinCEN within the Treasury Department is tasked with combating financial crimes, but they proved ineffectual at shutting money laundering down in banks like JPMORGAN, Chase, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank and Bank of New York Mellon who moved money for suspected criminals. The FinCEN files showed that banks with household names enabled a shadow financial system so widespread it became linked into the legitimate economy.
After BuzzFeed News and the ICIJ and 108 newsrooms around the world began publishing stories based on the information provided by Edwards, the United Kingdom launched a formal inquiry into Britain’s’ oversight of banks. Members of the European Parliament advocated for a stronger response across the continent. Investigations were opened in countries ranging from Thailand to Liberia. Most important was the passage of a new law aimed at the most effective money laundering tools cited in the stories: anonymous shell companies.
In December of 2020, the Corporate Transparency Act passed, being noted as the most substantial revision to anti-money laundering laws since the Patriot Act in 2001. Perhaps the Act should have been named after Natalie Edwards, since she was the one who single handedly brought about the monumental changes.
After a sixteen-month investigation of reporters linking flows of money to terror groups, drug kingpins and kleptocrats, with banks helping facilitate the massive money laundering, it was revealed that national regulators failed to act against the criminals or deal with the banks. After publication of FinCEN files, banking stocks globally tumbled dramatically. One publication noted that reverberations in the banking industry will be felt for months, if not years.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has called for substantive changes in banking oversight. Noting that the Corporate Transparency Act should be a first step, she will advocate for more reforms, including making Wall Street more accountable for financial crimes.
The Justice Department will now have to file yearly reports justifying its use of deferred prosecution agreements, sweetheart deals allowing banks that were guilty in anti-money laundering laws to avoid trial and criminal convictions. Edwards’ old employer, the U.S. Treasury Department will also have to seek new technologies to better identify criminal money flows and to increase communication between the private sector and federal agencies. Public officials cited the BuzzFeed and ICIJ investigation, which was based on Edwards information, as the reason reforms are being made after years of inaction.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) stated that “the reporting of FinCEN files had shined a light on money laundering and….certainly, helped get these provisions across the finish line.” Edwards points out that of all the politicians whom she assisted in getting their SARs requests filled, and notifying them of Treasury’s failures, Senator Wyden was the only one who put in a good word for Edwards.
Edwards felt that there was malfeasance and corruption in the federal government and was willing to sacrifice her freedom in order to bring it to the attention of the American public. If there had been credible avenues for disclosures available to her, Edwards would have followed a prescribed whistleblower route that afforded her anonymity and resolution in a proper manner, but there were none. No whistleblower path that is credible existed in her role as an intelligence whistleblower. Edwards suffered retaliation when she informed her superiors, Inspector Generals, and other agencies. She was advised she did not submit the right form, at the right time, in the right place. Every step she took to blow the whistle suffered obstruction and retaliation. The alleged doorkeepers for whistleblowers stymied her at every turn, playing “gotcha” games with form submissions and time restraints. There was never any offer of assistance, but simply the rigid authoritarian hand that came down heavily resulting in retaliation at work and eventually the loss of her job.
Edwards’ attorney Stephanie Carvlin remarked that BuzzFeed News had “cultivated” Edwards as a source because Edwards had believed it was imperative to expose wrongdoing and had to turn to media sources after exhausting all internal whistleblower channels. Edwards received nothing from BuzzFeed News or any other media organization. Edwards and her family lost their house, their car, their income, and reputation. Edwards is being punished for telling and releasing the truth to a media outlet after her own government retaliated and silenced her. She had no other avenue for speaking truth to power, and now she sits in prison for six months, with probation for three years.
As an indigenous matriarchal warrior, Edwards walks the hero’s road with a warrior spirit. She realized her goal she set after 9/11: protecting the American public. Her time in jail will be part of her path of life and waiting for her in love and support after jail will be her husband, Dave, her daughter Shania and her parents. Like most whistleblowers, Edwards may never see fame or fortune but that was never her goal in the first place. Her goal was to protect the American public and she accomplished that with little fanfare or glory. She lets others take the spotlight for changing the financial industry, and today, as she serves out her prison sentence, she knows she did the right thing for the right reasons. Her ancestors would be proud.
David Edwards has asked that letters would be especially helpful, and the address for his wife is:
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards
Glen Ray Road, Box A
Alderson, West Virginia 25910
Natalie Edwards is allowed to receive letters or packages or commissary monies under the 92705-083 number.
Envelopes must be white and written.