Couple arrested in $4.5bn stolen cryptocurrency laundering scheme
A New York couple has been arrested and charged with money laundering and attempting to defraud the US government, the Department of Justice announced on Tuesday.
Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, were arrested in New York, and authorities allege that the couple misled the government and institutions about stolen bitcoin in their possession, which they hid through sophisticated money laundering techniques.
Prosecutors say the couple would cash out bitcoin and use it to purchase NFTs, gold, and gift cards. The cryptocurrency in question is allegedly connected to the theft of an estimated $4.5 billion during a 2016 hack of a virtual currency exchange, in which thousands of fraudulent exchanges took place. Authorities recovered approximately $3.6 billion in connection with the hack. The $4.5 billion is an estimation of the value of the crypto today. At the time of the hack, what was taken was valued at just over $70 million.
The couple allegedly conspired to launder the proceeds from over 100,000 bitcoin, with some money making it to financial accounts controlled by Lichtenstein and Morgan.
Bitfinex, the company behind the hacked exchange, previously offered up to $400 million as a reward for leading the company to those responsible for the digital heist.
In the announcement about the arrests, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said that cryptocurrency would not provide a “safe haven” for criminal activity.
“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 the form it takes,” Monaco said.
The couple is facing what could be 30 years behind bars, if convicted.