US Couple Pleads Guilty To $4B Bitfinex Heist, Money Laundering
An American couple has pled guilty to their roles in stealing Bitcoins from Bitfinex, a popular crypto exchange, and attempting…
An American couple has pled guilty to their roles in stealing Bitcoins from Bitfinex, a popular crypto exchange, and attempting to launder the proceeds. Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department and arrested for alleged theft and money laundering this February. The U.S. government seized 95,000 Bitcoins, worth $3.6bn at the time of seizure, and another $475mn worth of Bitcoins later.
- Lichtenstein pled guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering. He admitted to hacking Bitfinex in 2016 and illegally transferring 119,754 Bitcoins to a personal crypto wallet.
- Morgan pled guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States for helping her husband launder the proceeds.
- The couple were not charged for the hack itself, even though Lichtenstein admitted to being the perpetrator.
According to prosecutors, Lichtenstein hacked Bitfinex and enlisted his wife to help him launder the proceeds. Their techniques included using fake identities to create crypto exchange accounts, depositing stolen funds in dodgy exchanges and online marketplaces, and using cryptocurrency mixing services to obfuscate the source of their funds.
According to prosecutors, Lichtenstein made several trips to Ukraine and Kazakhstan to meet “money mules” who converted some cryptocurrency into fiat currency and deposited it in Russian and Ukrainian bank accounts. Lichtenstein then withdrew cash from the accounts in the U.S. Lichtenstein also exchanged some Bitcoins into real gold coins that Morgan concealed by burying them (law enforcement has dug them up).
The stolen Bitcoins were worth about $72mn during the 2016 hack. Despite the couple’s attempts to launder them, they largely failed. The U.S. government seized most of the Bitcoins this year after the value had ballooned to over $4bn.
- Prosecutors said Lichtenstein had a long history of hacking and had stolen funds from other unnamed virtual currency exchanges before targeting Bitfinex. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
- Morgan faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison each for the two counts she pled guilty to. A federal judge will determine sentencing at a later date.