Feb 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

DOJ says it seized $3.6 billion in stolen bitcoin from 2016 hack

The Department of Justice seal on a podium in Washington, D.C., in 2018.

The Department of Justice seal on a podium in Washington, D.C., in 2018. Photo: Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

U.S. law enforcement officials seized bitcoin currently worth over $3.6 billion that was allegedly stolen from virtual currency exchange Bitfinex in 2016, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday.

Driving the news: Police arrested a couple in Manhattan for attempting to launder $4.5 billion worth of bitcoin linked to the 2016 hack, which they were able to track despite a web of transactions in order to conceal their origins, the Justice Department said.

By the numbers: The Justice Department said Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31, conspired to launder a total of 119,754 bitcoin that were stolen from Bitfinex.

  • It said Lichtenstein and Morgan used fake identities to set up online accounts and computer programs to automate thousands of transactions of the stolen funds to obfuscate their transaction history.
  • Around 25,000 of the bitcoins were transferred out of Lichtenstein’s digital wallet and into financial accounts held by the couple, while the rest were recovered.

What they're saying: “Today’s arrests, and the department’s largest financial seizure ever, show that cryptocurrency is not a safe haven for criminals,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said in a statement.

  • “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 what form it takes," she added.

Bitfinex, which controls the cryptocurrency Tether, commended the DOJ on the arrest and seizure Tuesday.

  • "Bitfinex will work with the DOJ and follow appropriate legal processes to establish our rights to a return of the stolen bitcoin," the exchange said.

The big picture: If convicted, Lichtenstein and Morgan would face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering and a maximum of five years for conspiracy to defraud the U.S.

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