The Justice Department announced Tuesday the government seized $3.6 billion in stolen cryptocurrency and the arrest of a Manhattan couple for an alleged conspiracy to launder bitcoin stolen during a 2016 hack of virtual currency exchange Bitfinex.
Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, both of New York City, were scheduled to appear in federal court Tuesday.
According to court documents, the couple allegedly conspired to launder 119,754 bitcoin stolen in a breach of Bitfinex’s platform using more than 2,000 unauthorized transactions that transferred the cryptocurrency to a digital wallet under Lichtenstein’s control. About 25,000 of the stolen bitcoin was transferred out of the wallet over the last five years using a complicated money laundering process — including using a variety of virtual currency exchanges, darknet markets and anonymity-enhanced virtual currency, in a practice known as “chain hopping.” Some of the stolen funds were deposited into accounts controlled by the couple, according to the Justice Department news release.
After securing a search warrant, special agents accessed and seized Lichentstein’s digital wallet with the remaining 94,000 stolen bitcoin that was valued at $3.6 billion.
“Today’s arrests, and the department’s largest financial seizure ever, show that cryptocurrency is not a safe haven for criminals,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “In a futile effort to maintain digital anonymity, the defendants laundered stolen funds through a labyrinth of cryptocurrency transactions. 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.”
Lichtenstein and Morgan are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and conspiracy to defraud the United States, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.