In what has been called the largest financial seizure in history, a New York couple was arrested in Manhattan for an alleged conspiracy to launder $4.5 billion in stolen cryptocurrency, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday (Feb. 8).
Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, are scheduled to appear in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on Tuesday (Feb. 8) at 3 p.m.
The DOJ said the virtual currency is worth $4.5 billion today, adding that it had seized $3.6 billion related to the hack.
Law enforcement officials said the digital currency was linked to the 2016 hack of Bitfinex, the Taiwan-based cryptocurrency exchange. Customers’ money had been lost or stolen in multiple incidents, and they were unable to secure normal banking relationships.
“Today’s arrests…show that cryptocurrency is not a safe haven for criminals,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco in a statement.
The couple allegedly conspired to launder proceeds from 119,754 bitcoin that were stolen from Bitfinex’s platform after a hacker breached its systems and initiated more than 2,000 unauthorized transactions, according to court documents.
Those unlawful transactions sent the stolen bitcoin to Lichtenstein’s digital wallet, the complaint said. Since 2017, about 25,000 of those stolen bitcoin were transferred out of Lichtenstein’s wallet by a money laundering scheme that ended with some of the stolen funds being deposited into financial accounts controlled by the pair, according to the DOJ.
The rest of the stolen funds, totaling more than 94,000 bitcoin, remained in the wallet and were used to receive the illegal proceeds from the hack, court records said.
Last week, Wormhole, a communication bridge between Solana and other decentralized finance blockchain networks, was hacked to the tune of about $320 million in cryptocurrency.
The hackers stole 120,000 wETH, or so-called wrapped ether. The project’s team later tweeted that the vulnerability was patched and they were working to get the network up and running again.