Justice Department seizes $3.6B in bitcoin in its biggest finance bust ever

 Authorities arrest two people in connection with an alleged conspiracy to launder billions in bitcoin. One of them is a YouTube rapper.

The US Justice Department seized on Tuesday $3.6 billion in bitcoin that it says is linked to the 2016 hack of the Hong Kong cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex, which was one of the world's biggest crypto companies.

 Authorities also arrested two people in Manhattan, charging them with conspiracy to launder cryptocurrency stolen during the hack. The bitcoin total taken in the hack is currently valued at $4.5 billion.

Officials seized over 94,000 bitcoin from Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife, Heather Morgan, 31. 

The DOJ said that the seized bitcoin are valued at $3.6 billion, making this the largest financial seizure in the department's history. 

The seizure shows that law enforcement can follow money through the blockchain, the DOJ said.   

"We will not allow cryptocurrency to be a safe haven for money laundering or a zone of lawlessness within our financial system," Kenneth Polite Jr., assistant attorney general for the DOJ's criminal division, said in a statement.

As momentous as the bust is, Morgan has garnered a huge amount of interest because of her odd online past. On her LinkedIn profile, she describes herself as an economist, entrepreneur and irreverent rapper.

 That's led to viral sharing of articles she's written for the likes of Forbes, including one titled: "Experts share tips to protect your business from cybercriminals." That article includes comments from BitGo, which provided security support for Bitfinex at the time of the 2016 hack.

Then there are the rap videos, performed under the alias Razzlekhan, wherein she variously calls herself the "Turkish Martha Stewart" and "The Crocodile of Wall Street." 

Her song Versace Bedouin begins: "This song is for the entrepreneurs and hackers, all the misfits and smart slackers." The videos have been taken down on YouTube, but remain shared on Twitter.

The Justice Department's ability to track the allegedly laundered bitcoin is significant. Cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ether are exchanged on decentralized blockchains, which allow people to send and receive the tokens with anonymity.

 That anonymity has attracted criminals, with bitcoin and the like often being used as black market currency. 

Cryptocurrency use in crime totaled about $14 billion in transfers to illicit addresses last year, according to a January report from Chainalysis. However, crime accounted for less than 1% of cryptocurrency transactions last year.   



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