A Russian-born tech entrepreneur and his rapper wife are facing the music in federal court.
On Thursday, Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan pleaded guilty to orchestrating a $4.5 billion money laundering scheme that took place in 2016. The couple, arrested in 2022 and nicknamed the “Bitcoin Bonnie and Clyde,” reportedly stole the funds by hacking cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex. Lichtenstein and Morgan shared their pleas with Judge Collen Kollar-Kotelly in federal court as part of a cooperation deal with prosecutors, CNN reported.
When the duo was arrested last year, the Justice Department called what they found its “largest financial seizure ever.” Yet until their hearing this week in Washington, D.C., Morgan and Lichtenstein had not been implicated in the hacking of Bitfinex. Further investigation revealed that Lichtenstein “used a number of advance hacking tools and techniques to gain access to Bitfinex’s network.” His methods allowed him to fraudulently authorize over 2,000 transactions and transfer nearly BTC120,000 to a crypto wallet of his own.
The disgraced businessman then “took steps to cover his tracks,” prosecutors claim, going so far as to enlist his wife’s help in stealing the money. Morgan, an aspiring rapper aliased as “Razzlekhan,” has bragged about being “the crocodile of Wall Street” in her music and claims to “make the weird kids feel at home,” according to her bio on the social media site X, formerly known as Twitter. The attention-seeking bandit has been placed on house arrest. Her husband will remain in jail as they await sentencing.
Lichtenstein pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, which could land him a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. His wife has also pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. Both counts carry a max of five years in prison, which means that Morgan could serve up to 10 years in jail. Lichtenstein entered a cooperative agreement with the government to testify and meet with law enforcement as requested, without the presence of his attorney.
The couple can ask the judge for sentences below the guidelines should prosecutors find their cooperation sufficient. But would the punishment still fit the crime for stealing billions?