Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan, the couple who were arrested last year for the massive 2016 Bitfinex hack involving billions of dollars of cryptocurrency, have pleaded guilty in court. Lichtenstein has admitted that he used multiple advanced hacking tools and techniques to gain entry into the cryptocurrency exchange's network. He then authorized 2,000 transactions to move 119,754 bitcoins to wallets he controlled. To cover his tracks, he said he deleted access credentials, logs and other digital breadcrumbs that could give him away. Morgan, his wife, helped him move and launder the stolen funds.
If you'll recall, the Justice Department seized 95,000 of the stolen bitcoins at the time of their arrest. Back then, that digital coin hoard was worth a whopping $3.6 billion and was the largest financial seizure in the agency's history. Authorities were able to trace more of the stolen funds after that to recover an additional $475 million worth of cryptocurrency.
According to the DOJ, Lichtenstein and Morgan used false identities to set up online accounts on darknet markets and cryptocurrency exchanges. They then withdrew the funds and distributed the bitcoins from there by converting them into other forms of cryptocurrency and keeping them in crypto mixing services. By doing so, they obfuscated the coins' sources and made them harder to trace. The couple also set up businesses in the US to make their banking activities look legitimate — Morgan had a TikTok where she talked about establishing a "multimillion dollar business" with "zero outside funding" — and they apparently used the stolen money to purchase physical gold coins that Morgan then buried.
— Liz Franczak (@liz_franczak) February 8, 2022
To be precise, Lichtenstein pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and could spend up to 20 years in prison. Meanwhile, Morgan pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Each one carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.