A New York couple has been arrested and charged with conspiring to launder $4.5 billion in stolen cryptocurrency funds. Law enforcement officials have seized $3.6 billion of those funds in what US Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco called “the department’s largest financial seizure ever.”
Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, are accused of trying to launder money taken in a huge hack of cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex in 2016.
The arrests and money seizure mark a win for US law enforcement amid a slew of heists from cryptocurrency platforms. Hackers have in recent years made off with hundreds of millions of dollars at time in attacks on virtual currency exchanges.
Lichtenstein and Morgan are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries up to 20 years in prison, and conspiracy to defraud the US, which carries up to five years in prison, according to Justice officials. An attorney for the couple could not be immediately reached for comment.
The department did not announce charges for the actual hack of Bitfinex, and Justice Department officials declined to comment further, citing an ongoing investigation.
As the toll of ransomware and other hacks have grown on the economy, law enforcement agencies have looked to more aggressively track and seize the cryptocurrency often used by criminal hackers. US officials last year recovered $2.3 million of the $4.4 million in ransom that Colonial Pipeline paid to a Russian-speaking gang.
“This shows that even when sophisticated money laundering techniques are used, the indelible blockchain records usually allow law enforcement to link criminal activity to individuals,” Tom Robinson, co-founder of cryptocurrency analysis firm Elliptic, told CNN.