Married NYC couple charged with laundering billions in stolen crypto

It’s one for the history books.

The Department of Justice announced Tuesday morning the arrest of a married New York City couple allegedly caught trying to launder cryptocurrency stolen during the notorious 2016 hack of the Bitfinex exchange. The proceeds from that boosted crypto — specifically, 119,754 bitcoin — is presently valued at around $4.5 billion, and large chunks of it were on the move as recently as earlier this month.

Accused of the crime is a married New York City couple, Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and Heather Morgan, 31. They were both arrested Tuesday morning in Manhattan.

“In a futile effort to maintain digital anonymity, the defendants laundered stolen funds through a labyrinth of cryptocurrency transactions,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said in a press release. “Thanks to the meticulous work of law enforcement, the department once again showed how it can and will follow the money, no matter what form it takes.”

Indeed, if law enforcement’s claims are correct, it appears that Lichtenstein and Morgan allegedly used many of the methods at their disposal — including, according to the DOJ press release, converting the BTC to more anonymity-friendly cryptocurrencies and massive amounts of automated transfers — in an attempt to obfuscate the source of their funds.

If Lichtenstein and Morgan are eventually convicted on the charges, it obviously means the couple failed.

“After the execution of court-authorized search warrants of online accounts controlled by Lichtenstein and Morgan, special agents obtained access to files within an online account controlled by Lichtenstein,” continued the DOJ press release. “Those files contained the private keys required to access the digital wallet that directly received the funds stolen from Bitfinex, and allowed special agents to lawfully seize and recover more than 94,000 bitcoin that had been stolen from Bitfinex.”

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The U.S. government, in other words, just seized approximately $3.6 billion worth of bitcoin.

Bitfinex publicly confirmed that it has been working with law enforcement to bring about the arrest.

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“We have been cooperating extensively with the DOJ since its investigation began and will continue to do so,” the exchange said in a statement. “Bitfinex will work with the DOJ and follow appropriate legal processes to establish our rights to a return of the stolen bitcoin.”

We’re sure it will.

Lichtenstein and Morgan are officially charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The former carries a 20-year maximum sentence, and the latter a five-year sentence.