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‘Bitcoin Bonnie and Clyde’ plead guilty to money laundering

<i>Elizabeth Williams/AP</i><br/>Heather Morgan and Ilya Lichtenstein
Elizabeth Williams/AP
Heather Morgan and Ilya Lichtenstein

By Allison Morrow and Holmes Lybrand, CNN

(CNN) — A husband and wife, whose eccentricities and alleged crimes earned them the nickname “Bitcoin Bonnie and Clyde,” pleaded guilty to orchestrating a $4.5 billion money-laundering scheme linked to the 2016 hack of crypto exchange Bitfinex.

The couple, Russian-born tech entreprener Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan, an aspiring rapper who goes by the alias “Razzlekhan,” were arrested in 2022 in what the Justice Department called its “largest financial seizure ever.”

On Thursday, as part of a cooperation deal with prosecutors, Lichtenstein and Morgan both pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering conspiracy. The presiding judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly accepted their pleas.

Until Thursday’s hearing in Washington, DC, federal court, neither Morgan nor Lichtenstein had been directly implicated in the hacking of Hong Kong-based crypto exchange Bitfinex.

But the Justice Department now says Lichtenstein “used a number of advanced hacking tools and techniques to gain access to Bitfinex’s network” and was able to fraudulently authorize more than 2,000 transactions in which nearly 120,000 bitcoin were transferred to a cryptocurrency wallet in Lichtenstein’s control.

“Lichtenstein then took steps to cover his tracks” and enlisted his wife’s help in laundering the funds, prosecutors said.

Since their arrest, the details of their lives have become something of a New York media sensation. The couple were known to walk their Bengal cat, Clarissa, on a leash in Manhattan.

Morgan, who raps about being “the crocodile of Wall Street” as her online music persona, has a Twitter bio that reads: “I make the weird kids feel at home,” and describes herself as a “tech entrepreneur, surrealist artist, rapper, prolific writer, & fashion designer with synesthesia.”

Lichtenstein, who emigrated from Russia, will remain in jail while awaiting sentencing. Morgan will remain under house arrest.

Lichtenstein entered into a cooperation agreement with the government, agreeing to testify and meet with law enforcement when requested, outside the presence of his attorney.

Lichtenstein pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to a press release from the Justice Department. Morgan pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, each of which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

If government prosecutors find that their cooperation has been sufficiently helpful, however, they can ask the judge for a sentence below those guidelines.

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