NYC couple charged with laundering $4.5B in bitcoin by feds

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NEW YORK (NewsNation Now) — The U.S. Justice Department took more than $3.6 billion in what it says is its largest-ever financial seizure when it arrested a New York couple who allegedly conspired to launder billions of dollars in cryptocurrency.

The couple, Ilya “Dutch” Lichtenstein, a 34-year-old citizen Russian and U.S. citizen, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, were arrested in Manhattan on Tuesday morning on charges that they used various “sophisticated” techniques to launder stolen cryptocurrency.

Both Lichtenstein and Morgan now face federal charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States.

“The message to criminals is clear: Cryptocurrency is not a safe haven,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement. “We can and we will follow the money, no matter what form it takes.”

Court documents say that Lichtenstein and Morgan allegedly conspired to launder 119,754 Bitcoin that was stolen from Bitfinex’s platform in 2016 after a hacker breached its systems and initiated more than 2,000 unauthorized transactions. At the time, the amount stolen was worth $71 million. It is valued today at more than $4.5 billion.

Prosecutors say the couple directed these stolen funds to a digital wallet under their control.

Special agents gained access to files in an online account controlled by Lichtenstein, the Justice Department said. These files contained the private keys required to access the digital wallet that received the stolen funds, which allowed special agents to lawfully seize and recover more than 94,000 Bitcoin that had been stolen from Bitfinex.

At the time it was seized, the recovered Bitcoin had a value of over $3.6 billion, the Justice Department said in a news release.

Bitcoin has been rapidly coming into public consciousness, which Justice Department officials say represents innovation but can also be accompanied by money laundering, ransomware and other crimes.

Just this week, Bitcoin rose to a four-week high, which is the second consecutive session it has grown, according to Reuters.

On Monday, the cryptocurrency went up to $44,524.18, its highest since mid-January. Although bitcoin hit a six-month low on Jan. 24, since then it has gained about 35%.

Other cryptocurrencies are doing well, too. Ether, which is behind Bitcoin as the second-largest digital currency. had a three-week peak of $3,180.

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