NYC Couple Charged With Alleged $4.5 Billion Scheme to Launder Stolen Bitcoin

Federal prosecutors allege Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife Heather Morgan tried to launder bitcoin stolen from Bitfinex in 2016

Marco Bello | AFP | Getty Images

A husband-and-wife duo were arrested in Manhattan Tuesday morning, charged with an alleged conspiracy to launder $4.5 billion worth of cryptocurrency stolen in the 2016 hack of currency exchange Bitfinex.

Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, both of Manhattan, are due in court Tuesday afternoon.

Federal prosecutors allege they conspired to launder the proceeds of 119,754 bitcoin that were stolen from Bitfinex’s platform and ended up in a digital wallet under Lichtenstein's control.

Some 25,000 bitcoin were transferred out of the wallet over the last five years, the government alleges, and laundered through a complicated process that resulted in some of the stolen funds landing in bank accounts the couple controlled.

The Justice Department said it had already recovered $3.6 billion worth of cryptocurrency stolen in the hack, which it described as its largest financial seizure ever.

"In a futile effort to maintain digital anonymity, the defendants laundered stolen funds through a labyrinth of cryptocurrency transactions. Thanks to the meticulous work of law enforcement, the department once again showed how it can and will follow the money, no matter what form it takes," Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement.

The couple face charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

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