Treasury Dept headquarters, Washington DC. Shutterstock image ID 684809878 by  Bill Perry

Treasury whistleblower's long & winding road

Former Treasury Department employee “May” Edwards last month received a sentence of six months in federal prison for making disclosures to the media several years ago that she considered legit whistleblowing, but her employer—and a federal court—judged illegal. 

Edwards leaked to a prominent investigative journalist and his news organization, Buzzfeed, a number of Suspicious Activities Reports (“SARs”) she accessed while working as a senior advisor at Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network—"FinCEN.”

Now, a news story from the Washington Post details how crucial these documents, among others Edwards leaked, were in uncovering financial abuses—for example, relating to Paul Manafort, an official connected with former President Trump's 2016 campaign who was ultimately convicted of financial crimes. These specific leaks by Edwards also led to formal charges against her—and the loss of her job and family home. After a series of twists and turns, she pled guilty, getting the half-year sentence scheduled to start in August. 

But Edwards (full name, Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards), throughout saw herself as a whistleblower combating government waste, fraud and abuse. The Post article paints a picture that the specific disclosures related to the campaign also unearthed genuine departmental corruption—and arguably merited whistleblower protection, not charges, for her. 

Perhaps more importantly, additional leaks—for which Edwards was not charged—exposed official wrongdoing on a far wider scale, documenting banks around the world that participated in money laundering with the complicity of high officials in the U.S. government. These leaks provided immense help to U.S. and international law enforcement. In fact, they provided the foundation for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) ”Panama Papers” (2016) and ”Paradise Papers” (2017) online projects, which in turn continue to spawn impactful news stories, a multitude of firings and arrests, and the beginnings of policy reforms across multiple countries—including some being pursued by the current White House. 

Because of these powerful—and tonic—effects of Edwards’s efforts, advocates insist she is a whistleblower who has suffered a serious miscarriage of justice, deserving praise not punishment. There is an online petition—with a growing list of signatories—calling on the White House to pardon her, among other ongoing campaigns in her behalf. 

Related note: The Project On Government Oversight (POGO), which provides advice and support to government whistleblowers, offers a comprehensive guide for government employees to fight waste, fraud and abuse by bringing problems to light—while taking steps to avoid the often unjust treatment by employers that follows. Despite improvements in the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act of 2012, surveys show federal employees continue to fear retaliation for making legitimate disclosures through approved channels. 

2021 Digital Almanac

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