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'Crypto Couple' Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering $4.5 Billion in Stolen Bitcoin

The husband and wife cyber-crime duo, Heather Morgan and Ilya Lichtenstein, known as the 'Crypto Couple,' have admitted attempting to launder a staggering $4.5 billion (£3.5 billion) worth of Bitcoin, which Lichtenstein had stolen in a 2016 hack. The couple was apprehended last year in New York when law enforcement traced their immense crypto fortune back to the initial cyber attack.

'Crypto Couple' Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering $4.5 Billion in Stolen Bitcoin

Initially valued at $71 million, the stolen tokens had appreciated to over $4.5 billion by the time of their arrest on February 22 in New York. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco hailed the recovery of $3.6 billion in assets at the time as the most substantial financial seizure in the history of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Subsequently, the DOJ managed to retrieve an additional $475 million, and the couple recently agreed in court to jointly forfeit $72 million.

Ilya Lichtenstein, aged 35, who holds a degree in psychology and identifies himself as a technology entrepreneur on LinkedIn, admitted to being the perpetrator of the hack. The prosecutor revealed Lichtenstein's history of hacking, including activities during his juvenile years, and his previous theft of funds from virtual currency exchanges before the 2016 breach.

Lichtenstein hacked the exchange, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 33, reportedly assisted in establishing accounts with fictitious identities to conceal the illicit gains. The couple undertook trips to Ukraine and Kazakhstan, ostensibly for tourism and business purposes, which later proved to be linked to their money-laundering operations.

During one of the trips, Morgan became suspicious after observing Lichtenstein burning documents in Kazakhstan. Prosecutors disclosed that Lichtenstein used these trips to meet "money mules" who converted cryptocurrency into government-issued currency, which was then deposited into Russian and Ukrainian banks. The couple would subsequently withdraw cash from these accounts within the United States.

While Morgan pursued her rap and tech persona, assuming the moniker Razzlekhan, the couple employed sophisticated tactics to launder their stolen funds, including splitting the Bitcoin into small amounts, mixing the funds with other criminal cryptocurrency on the darknet, purchasing gold coins, and setting up shell companies.

As part of their plea agreement, both defendants acknowledged guilt in money laundering, while Morgan pleaded guilty to an additional count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. The couple could face prison sentences, with Lichtenstein potentially serving up to 20 years and Morgan up to 10 years.

The successful apprehension of the 'Crypto Couple' highlights the increasing utilization of blockchain analysis tools to investigate cryptocurrency-related crimes. The seized Bitcoins will be returned to victims who experienced losses during the hack, potentially leading to substantial reimbursements for affected parties.



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