entrepreneurs, artists, influencers and even Forbes collaborators: Who is the couple arrested for laundering thousands of bitcoins linked to the Bitfinex hack? All about the case and the questions that still have no answer.
On Tuesday of this week, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the arrest of a married couple allegedly linked to the hacking of the cryptocurrency exchange. Bitfinex in 2016. The agency said it seized around $4 billion worth of digital currencies from the duo, in what was the largest financial seizure in the country’s history.
The story of Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife Heather Morgan, 31, who are charged with conspiracy to launder cryptocurrency stolen during a hacking attack 6 years ago, has made headlines across news outlets all year. week. People have been especially fascinated with the alleged culprits, who have been shown as somewhat eccentric characters.
The couple, captured with a fortune bitcoin in his hands, he does not seem to have the typical profile of a criminal wanted by justice. Both actively ran their social media accounts, where they publicly displayed their glamorous lifestyle in New York.. Morgan, meanwhile, is a musical artist and writer who even contributed to the magazine Forbes.
Beyond the jaw-dropping portraits of these alleged criminals, the matter has drawn widespread media attention due to unanswered questions surrounding the legal case and the details of the hack.
The portrait of the alleged criminal couple
By all accounts, the pair of suspected criminals led a fairly successful life. The young woman was a marketing entrepreneur who sang rap and had many articles published in business magazines. Together with her husband, a technologist, she ran a marketing company called SalesFolkwhich specialized in helping businesses create email templates.
Lichtenstein was co-founder and CEO of mixrank, a customer discovery platform that works with sales reps. This undertaking managed to raise USD $1.5 million from accredited investors, including Mark Cuban.
Both husbands, with university studies, were known within the technological and cryptographic industry. They were involved in a company called demandpath, which focused onentrepreneurs and decentralized projectsyes”. Meanwhile, the profile LinkedIn of him places him as the founder of a blockchain startup called end-pass.
Although without a doubt the most fascinating profile is that of Morgan. With nearly 5,000 followers on Instagramshe considered herself a street rapper under the nickname “Razzlekhan”. He has also contributed articles on a wide range of topics, including cybersecurity, to publications such as Forbes and inc. The young woman also called herself the “wall street crocodile”.
You can check out a video of Razzlekhan’s freestyle rap below (at your own risk).
The spouses have hundreds of posts on their social media accounts, though not all of them are so wacky. The middle TheVergewhich thoroughly examined the accounts of Razzlekhan, says the girl generally posts about her rapping (one of which is about on investing in GameStop, Ethereum and Bitcoin), some videos of twerkinga guide on how to put gummy life preservers on toes and a lot of promotion for his music and art. In others, you can also see the daily life of the pair, who have a pet kitten.
What has happened so far?
After being arrested on February 8 in Manhattan, the defendants were transferred to the District of Columbia (DC) for a hearing that will take place on February 14. The duo face charges of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States, and could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.
Initially the government requested preventive detention, which would keep the two in custody until trial. The government argued that Morgan and Lichtenstein “presented a serious flight risk“. A judge rejected this request and allowed the couple to leave in released on a joint $8 million bond, $5 million for Lichtenstein and $3 million for Morgan.
However, the US government filed a Motion for Emergency Stay and Review of the Release Order, which halted the judge’s decision with immediate effect. Authorities again raised concerns that the couple could flee the country. They noted that Lichtenstein has Russian nationality, a country that does not extradite its own citizens.
“His failure in [escapar cuando tuvieron la oportunidad] not indicative of your future flight risk”, the FBI said, as quoted cryptonews. Attorneys for the defendants had previously submitted a letter with various reasons for release on bail, including a health risk condition for Morgan, who previously suffered lung damage.
They also argued that they had no intention of fleeing since the couple keeps several frozen embryos in a clinic in New York. “The couple would never flee the country at the risk of losing access to their ability to have children“, the lawyers said.
Questions that remain open
Some news media, such as CoinDesk Y Decrypt, who have reviewed the facts, point out that the case still has some unanswered loose ends. Among them, something that is easily deduced up to this point in the story: Why would a couple of alleged criminals deliberately carry such publicly active social media accounts?
In general, many of the attitudes and decisions of the accused do not seem to coincide with that of a criminal mind. For example, the fact that they have chosen to live in the United States instead of moving to a country with no extradition policies, especially if one of them is a Russian national. In addition, they resided in New York, the state with the most important federal prosecutor’s office in the country and is especially known for prosecuting financial crimes, as the journalist pointed out. Laura Shin.
Another particularly curious element is the fact that Lichtenstein and Morgan would have stored their cryptographic keys (private access codes to a wallet) in a cloud service; a decision that would seem highly unlikely from a hacker who was allegedly linked to one of the biggest hacks in crypto history. The authorities assured that they were able to seize a total of 94,636 bitcoin stolen after finding the keys in the cloud.
This brings us to another question, perhaps the most crucial: Who is actually behind the hack perpetrated on Bitfinex in 2016? The charges filed against the couple they do not allege that they were responsible for the initial hack of the exchange, nor do they offer any specific theories as to how they would have come into possession of the stolen coins.
More curiosities -and some speculations- about the case
Beyond the fact of having opened her life to thousands of followers on the Internet, Morgan would also have spoken publicly about issues that could easily link her to the cyberattack on Bitfinex. as highlighted TheVergethe accused listed as the author of an article called “Experts share tips to protect your business from cybercriminals“.
He also gave a talk supposedly about marketing in which he explained how to apply the “social engineering“ to obtain “anything“. In fact, according to CoinDeskMorgan would have been particularly interested in this topic, a type of hacking that focuses on compromising people rather than code. In her talk, she would have talked about methods of deception and manipulation.
The report indicates that this is a particularly suspicious element, given the nature of the attack on Bitfinex. In addition, the young woman apparently interviewed Matt Parrella, a former director of compliance for BitGo (the exchange’s security provider), for the piece of Forbes that is mentioned above. To this is added that a preliminary report of CoinDesk noted that the attack on Bitfinex would have required -possibly- that BitGo sign to authorize the withdrawal of funds.
These factors are certainly curious and, if added together, could lead to the possibility that social engineering was involved in the hack. Although for now these are mere speculations.
Open questions remain: How is this whole thing connected with Bitfinex and what happened in 2016? What will the US government do with the stolen bitcoins? Why didn’t the couple migrate to another country or hide their private keys better? (It should be noted that a document found on Lichtenstein’s computer, under the name “passport_ideas” and with false identities bought in the dark websuggests that the duo would have considered flying out of the country before the Covid-19 pandemic).
For now, we will have to wait for events to evolve to learn more about this story.
Article by Hannah Estefanía Pérez / DailyBitcoin
Unsplash image edited in Canva
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