A New York couple was arrested Tuesday and charged with racketeering to launder billions of dollars in cryptocurrencies stolen in a 2016 hack of a virtual currency exchange, the Justice Department said.
Couple arrested for laundering USD 3.6 billion with cryptocurrencies
In addition to the arrests, federal agents revealed that the department seized some $3.6 billion in cryptocurrencies linked to the hack of Bitfinex, an online exchange house that had its systems breached nearly six years ago. This is the largest financial seizure ever made by the Department of Justice.
The stolen cryptocurrencies, which were worth $71 million at the time of the theft, are now worth $3.5 billion, according to sources.
Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, who describes himself on social media as a “tech entrepreneur, coder and investor, and his wife Heather Morgan, 31, were arrested Tuesday morning in Manhattan to answer charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
According to prosecutors, Lichtensteinand Morgan used complex techniques to receive the stolen cryptocurrency in a digital wallet controlled by them and conceal the transactions and money movement.
They cashed in millions of dollars from cryptocurrency ATM transactions to purchase gold and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) as well as more conventional items such as Walmart gift cards for their personal expenses.
The couple was not charged in the Bitfinex hack, which resulted in more than 2,000 unauthorized transactions.
Justice Department officials say that while the proliferation of cryptocurrency and virtual currency exchanges represent innovations, the same trend has redounded to money laundering, “ransomware” (extortion software) and other crimes.
“Today’s arrests and the largest financial seizure ever made by the department demonstrate that cryptocurrency is not a haven for criminals,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco in a statement.