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Government employee leaked confidential information, officials say

This image provided by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Department

This image provided by the Alexandria Sheriff’s Department shows a mug shot of Natalie Mayflower Edwards. Credit: AP

A Virginia woman who worked at a sensitive government financial intelligence unit was charged in Manhattan federal court Wednesday with leaking to a reporter confidential bank transaction reports on former Trump-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the Russian Embassy and others.

Prosecutors said Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, 40, of Quinton, Virginia, a Treasury Department senior employee at the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCen, was the source on a dozen stories that matched articles published by BuzzFeed, an online news organization that wasn’t named.

The leaked reports, filed by banks on financial transactions that raise red flags, involved Manafort and ex-partner Rick Gates, both convicted on fraud charges; accused Russian agent Maria Butina, the Russian Embassy and Prevezon Alezander, a Russian company linked to a tax fraud.

They fueled articles about transactions under scrutiny in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian election interference and transfers by the Russian Embassy at the time of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, but not about government wrongdoing, according to the charges.

Edwards was taken into custody Tuesday with a thumb drive containing thousands of sensitive documents including the so-called Suspicious Activity Reports, or SARs, and a cellphone with an encrypted app she used to send them to the reporter, the government said.

After initially denying her role, Edwards confessed, but said she didn’t know the information would be published, and described herself as a “whistleblower” who took the reports for “record keeping,” prosecutors said.

Edwards was released on a $100,000 bond in Virginia and is due in Manhattan federal court by Nov. 2. Her lawyer did not return a call for comment.

BuzzFeed, which published stories for a year based on the reports under headlines quoted in the criminal complaint, did not comment. Its reporter was not named or charged, but the complaint specified that he urged Edwards to look for certain records, which could suggest complicity.

The government also said a supervisor of Edwards, referred to as “CC-1” and described as an associate director of FinCen, engaged in dozens of communications with Edwards and with the reporter via the encrypted app. That individual was not charged.

Prosecutors said Edwards transmitted the confidential SARs to the reporter by taking pictures of the documents and texting them to the reporter with the app. On one day, the two allegedly exchanged 541 texts with the reporter.

The articles based on the leaked reports, the government said, included one this week about an American bank’s loan to Prevezon Alexander, a Russian company linked to fraud and money laundering, and others about financial transactions by participants in a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., other Trump campaign officials, and Russians.

In addition to the SARs, the complaint said, among 24,000 sensitive files on her flash drive, Edwards also had internal files with confidential personal and business information and intelligence division threat assessments with materials on Russia, Iran and the Islamic State.

Earlier this year, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn star Stormy Daniels, released information obtained from leaked SARs about money paid to Michael Cohen, then a Trump lawyer, by companies with government business seeking influence after Trump’s election.

There was no indication Edwards was linked to that case, but Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in a statement said she had “betrayed her position of trust” and issued a warning to other potential leakers.

“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,” Berman said.

Edwards on social media identified herself as a descendant of a Native American Virginia family and a Virginia Commonwealth University graduate who once worked for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. She faces up to 10 years in prison for leaking the SARs and conspiracy.

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