The Justice Department announced Tuesday morning it seized more than $3.6 billion in allegedly stolen cryptocurrency linked to the 2016 hack of Bitfinex. As part of the operation, authorities detained a New York couple on allegations they planned to launder the digital goods.
It marks the agency’s largest financial seizure ever, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement.
Officials said they arrested Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31. The couple is scheduled to make their initial appearances in federal court later in the day. Lichtenstein’s and Morgan’s legal representation wasn’t immediately clear.
Authorities accuse the pair of trying to launder the proceeds of 119,754 bitcoin that were stolen from Bitfinex’s platform after a hacker breached Bitfinex’s systems and initiated more than 2,000 unauthorized transactions. Prosecutors allege that the transactions sent the stolen bitcoin to Lichtenstein’s digital wallet.
Officials said they were able to seize more than 94,000 bitcoin, which was valued around $3.6 billion at the time of seizure. In all, the total stolen bitcoin is presently valued at approximately $4.5 billion, according to the agency.
“Today, federal law enforcement demonstrates once again that we can follow money through the blockchain, and that we will not allow cryptocurrency to be a safe haven for money laundering or a zone of lawlessness within our financial system,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. said in a statement.
The pair are charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and conspiracy to defraud the United States, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Crypto platforms have faced a number of hacks and scams in recent months. Scammers took home a record $14 billion in cryptocurrency in 2021, according to data from blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis. Most recently, Wormhole, one of the most popular bridges linking the ethereum and solana blockchains, lost about $320 million in an apparent hack earlier this month.