Federal agents arrested a New York couple and seized billions of dollars in stolen bitcoin after a lengthy investigation into an alleged money laundering scheme. The case has captured considerable attention from the media and the world of cryptocurrency. The Justice Department claimed the seizure was the largest ever in its history.
Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and Heather Morgan, 31, were charged with conspiracy to launder bitcoin worth billions of dollars and conspiracy to defraud the United States. If convicted, they could face up to 25 years in prison.
The Justice Department seized around $3.6 billion in cryptocurrency linked to the 2016 breach of Bitfinex, a virtual currency exchange. The hacker stole and transferred the bitcoin to a digital wallet outside the exchange. Officials said while the stolen amount was worth around $71 million at the time, the value has skyrocketed to about $4.5 billion since then.
Lichtenstein and Morgan were not believed to be behind the 2016 hack. However, the couple was accused of trying to hide the stolen financial assets in a network of digital wallets. They then allegedly conspired to launder the cryptocurrency through small, complex transactions across digital platforms into dozens of accounts with fake names.
The New York City tech entrepreneurs were arrested at their Manhattan apartment. They had a highly visible social media presence, including Morgan’s rapper alter ego, that seemed at odds with prosecutors’ description of them as sophisticated criminals with fake identities.
According to authorities, a search of their apartment revealed multiple cellphones, more than 50 encrypted devices and hollowed-out books with hidden compartments. Federal agents also found over $40,000 in cash and other foreign currency.
The couple’s lawyer said in court documents that the government’s case against Lichtenstein and Morgan has many weaknesses and lacks solid evidence. The case is a notable one as it reflects the government’s enhanced efforts to crack down on cryptocurrency crimes and willingness to trace potential laundering operations that may occur in the digital space.
If you have been accused of money laundering or digital crimes, contact an experienced New York criminal defense lawyer right away. Prosecutors often like to present mountains of electronic evidence to prove their case and make it seem as if there is no way out for you. With a skilled legal team representing your interests, you can fight back against the harsh penalties that come with such charges. Contact Brill Legal Group today to learn more.