Married US couple arrested for $6.2 billion cryptocurrency Bitfinex hack in 2016

The ordinary US newlyweds have been unmasked as the masterminds behind an elaborate theft that resulted in the largest ever financial seizure from authorities.

A married couple was busted in New York, USA, on Tuesday for allegedly trying to launder roughly US$4.5 billion (A$6.2 billion) in cryptocurrency stolen during a massive 2016 hack, federal prosecutors said.

Ilya “Dutch” Lichtenstein, 34, and his rapper wife, Heather Morgan, 31, are accused of conspiring to wash the proceeds of 119,754 bitcoin that were looted when a hacker breached the systems of virtual currency exchange Bitfinex, The New York Post reports.

The stolen cryptocurrency was allegedly transferred to a digital wallet controlled by Lichtenstein, who describes himself as a “Technology entrepreneur, coder and investor” on his LinkedIn account.

He and his wife — a self-professed “Serial Entrepreneur” and “surrealist rap” creator — then moved the funds to their accounts via “a complicated money laundering process,” prosecutors said.

The couple allegedly spent the illegal proceeds on things like gold, NFTs and a US$500 (A$700) Walmart gift card, according to the criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday local time (Wednesday AEDT).

As part of the scheme, the duo allegedly “employed numerous sophisticated laundering techniques” including setting up online accounts under bogus identities and moving the money through the darknet, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said the pair had a bag labelled “burner phones” filled with mobile phones inside their Manhattan apartment, and that Lichtenstein, a dual Russia-US citizen, kept a file called “passport_ideas” on his computer.

The Justice Department said special agents were able to recover over US$3.6 billion in bitcoin stolen during the Bitfinex hack — its largest-ever financial seizure.

“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.

Bitfinex said it was working with the Department of Justice to “establish our rights to a return of the stolen bitcoin.”

Lichtenstein and Morgan are facing charges of conspiring to commit money laundering, as well as to defraud the US. If convicted of both counts, they could each face a maximum sentence of 25 years.

The couple were married last year. They got engaged in 2019, according to a Facebook post from Lichtenstein in which he said his bride was “my best friend and the woman of my dreams” and “not just a tech entrepreneur” but also a “fearless rapper.”

Morgan has released a number of rap songs under the alter ego “Razzlekhan,” described as “like Genghis Khan, but with more pizzazz” on her website. She also offers productivity tips, according to her Instagram.

In one bizarre 2019 music video titled “Rap Anthem for Misfits & Weirdos: Versace Bedouin Music Video,” Morgan can be seen bouncing around Wall Street in a gold jacket, leopard-print scarf, sunglasses and hat with an entourage as she raps: “Come real far but I don’t know where I’m headin’. I’m the motherf***ing crocodile of Wall Street.”

She’s also got a song called “Getting high in a cemetery” that includes the lyric “I love me some grave grass.”

Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman set pre-trial release conditions for Lichtenstein and Morgan when the pair made their first appearance in a Lower Manhattan federal courtroom Tuesday evening.

Lichtenstein’s bond was set at US$5 million, with his parents’ home posted as security, five co-signers and home incarceration with electronic monitoring. Morgan’s bond was set at $3 million, with two co-signers and home incarceration with electronic monitoring.

This article originally appeared in The New York Post and was reproduced here with permission.

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