Deep Dives

Bitfinex hackers who stole billions in crypto plead guilty

August 5, 2023
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Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan, a couple involved in the 2016 Bitfinex hack that stole billions of dollars in cryptocurrency, have pleaded guilty in court. Lichtenstein admitted to using advanced hacking tools to steal 119,754 bitcoins, while Morgan assisted in laundering the funds. At the time of their arrest, authorities seized a significant portion of the stolen bitcoins worth $3.6 billion, and further recovery efforts led to an additional $475 million in seized cryptocurrency.

The Bitfinex Hack and Guilty Plea:
  • Ilya Lichtenstein orchestrated the 2016 Bitfinex hack, stealing 119,754 bitcoins.
  • He used advanced hacking tools and techniques, authorizing 2,000 transactions to move the bitcoins to his control.
  • Lichtenstein covered his tracks by deleting access credentials and digital evidence.
  • Heather Morgan, his wife, helped move and launder the stolen funds.
  • Lichtenstein pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, while Morgan pleaded guilty to money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to defraud the U.S.

  • Recovery and Seizure of Stolen Bitcoins:
  • The Justice Department seized 95,000 of the stolen bitcoins at the time of arrest, worth $3.6 billion.
  • Authorities later traced and recovered an additional $475 million worth of cryptocurrency.

  • Methods of Laundering and Hiding the Funds:
  • The couple used false identities to create accounts on darknet markets and cryptocurrency exchanges.
  • They converted the bitcoins into other forms of cryptocurrency and used crypto mixing services to make the coins harder to trace.
  • They set up businesses in the U.S. to make their activities look legitimate, and used stolen money to purchase gold coins that Morgan buried.
  • Morgan even discussed her "multimillion dollar business" on TikTok.

  • Legal Consequences:
  • Lichtenstein could face up to 20 years in prison for his guilty plea.
  • Morgan could face a maximum of five years in prison for each of her guilty pleas.

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