The US Department of Justice stated on Tuesday that a New York couple was arrested and booked for a $4.5 billion cryptocurrency laundering scheme and attempting to deceive the US government.
Authorities say Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, deceived the government and institutions about stolen bitcoin they had in their possession, which they hid using intricate money laundering procedures.
Prosecutors claim the couple will then cash out their bitcoin and use it to buy NFTs, gold, and gift cards. The cryptocurrency in question is allegedly linked to the theft of $4.5 billion during a 2016 hack of a crypto currency exchange, which resulted in thousands of fraudulent exchanges.
In connection with the hack, authorities managed to recover approximately $3.6 billion. The $4.5 billion figure is an estimate of the cryptocurrency’s current value. What was stolen was worth slightly more than $70 million at the time of the hack.
The couple then supposedly conspired to launder the revenue from over 100,000 bitcoin, with some of the money ending up in accounts controlled by Lichtenstein and Morgan.
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There was a reward of $400 million being offered by Bitfinex, the organization behind the compromised exchange to anyone who helped them capture perpetrators of the cybercrime.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco was recently heard stating that crypto currency would not provide a “safe haven” for illegal conduct when announcing the arrests of the couple.
Monaco further added, “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 the form it takes.”
If convicted, the couple faces a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.