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Justice Dept. announces largest-ever financial seizure as government takes control of $3.6B in crypto

Cryptocurrency Laundering
Posted at 4:33 PM, Feb 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-08 16:33:30-05

The Justice Department has announced its largest-ever financial seizure — more than $3.5 billion — and the arrests of a New York couple accused of conspiring to launder billions of dollars in cryptocurrency.

It says the cryptocurrency was stolen from the 2016 hack of a virtual currency exchange. Law enforcement officials on Tuesday revealed the Justice Department has seized roughly $3.6 billion in cryptocurrency linked to the hack of Bitfinex, a virtual currency exchange whose systems were breached nearly six years ago.

Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife, Heather Morgan, were arrested in Manhattan on Tuesday. It's unclear if they have lawyers or people who can speak on their behalf.

As the Associated Press reported, the couple wasn't charged in the Bitfinex hack which lead to the theft of nearly 120,000 bitcoin valued at around $71 million then, and now worth more than $4.5 billion, according to officials.

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

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said, “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,” he said. "The arrests today show that we will take a firm stand against those who allegedly try to use virtual currencies for criminal purposes.”