The Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested two spouses on charges of trying to launder $ 5.2 billion worth of cryptocurrencies.
More than $ 3.6 billion, or about 94,000 bitcoins, were seized in the operation. This is the highest amount ever seized by the US Department of Justice. (The price of bitcoin has been rising in recent days, so there are different numbers)
Entrepreneur Ilya Lichtenstein (34) and his wife Heather Morgan (31) have been charged with money laundering. The couple tried to launder 119,754 bitcoins that were stolen from Bitfinex in 2016.
Тhe 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 $500 Walmart gift card, according to the criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday.
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.
“Cryptocurrencies are not a safe haven for criminals. Thanks to the continuous work of law enforcement agencies, the department has once again shown that it can, and will, monitor the money. “No matter what form they take,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco.
The police action is in fact a great reminder of the jump that cryptocurrencies have made in the last few years. At the time of the theft in 2016, these 119,754 bitcoins were worth $ 72 million. After the huge growth of cryptocurrencies, the value of stolen cryptocurrencies is now over 60 times higher.
Theft of Bitfinex currencies
The beginnings of Bitnex are in 2011 as Bitcoinica. The Bitfinex exchange uses the same source code as the basis for its platform.
The exchange ceased operations less than a year ago, after first losing 43,000 bitcoins worth $ 200,000 in theft, and a few weeks later another 18,000 bitcoins worth $ 90,000 were stolen. The cryptocurrency that was stolen was owned by the stock exchange, and only a small part was stolen by users.
Bitcoinica ceased to exist, and the founder of the stock exchange was identified as one of the suspects in the thefts. The stock market failed, and a civil lawsuit was launched against it.
In less than a year, Bifinex, registered in the British Virgin Islands, appeared under the name iFinex. iFinex has two Bitfinex subsidiaries in Hong Kong and BFXNA in the United States. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange until the theft in 2016 was the largest in terms of dollar value of cryptocurrencies that were changing.
On August 3, 2016, 119,754 bitcoins worth about $ 72 million were stolen from the Bitfinex exchange in Hong Kong. At the time of the theft, this was the second largest theft of cryptocurrencies from the stock market.
The bitcoins in this theft were stolen from the wallets of the clients on the stock exchange. The attack involved about 2,000 unauthorized transactions. Most of the stolen bitcoins ended up on AlphaBay accounts. Authorities shut down the platform in 2017 for unauthorized sales of narcotics, weapons and forged documents.
Law enforcement managed to track AlphaBay transactions. All the transactions ended up in one wallet, which law enforcement officers suspect is owned by Ilya Lichtenstein.