Bitfinex cryptocurrency hackers from the 2016 scam, depicting Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan.

Bitfinex 2016 Hack and 2022 Department of Justice Seizure

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Updated Feb 09, 2022 at 04:10PM EST by Zach.

Added Feb 09, 2022 at 11:52AM EST by Adam.

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The Bitfinex 2016 Hack and 2022 Department of Justice Seizure refers to the security breach and hack of the virtual currency exchange Bitfinex in 2016 and the arrest of Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan for alleged conspiracy to launder $4.5 billion worth of cryptocurrency in 2022. The government seized $3.6 billion worth of cryptocurrency related to the hack in early February 2022. As the news spread on social media following the seizure, users discovered the pair's social media accounts, leading to much mockery, particularly of Morgan's rap music.


On August 3rd, 2016, the virtual currency exchange platform Bitfinex was hacked and suffered a "major security breach,"[1] with 119,756 units of Bitcoin stolen, the equivalent of $72 million at the time. Following the event, Bitcoin's value plummeted roughly 20 percent, while Bitfinex halted all Bitcoin withdrawals and trading on the platform. The stolen Bitcoins were reportedly taken from users' segregated wallets with Bitfinex stating it was attempting to track down the hackers.[7] Customers on the exchange who had both been affected and unaffected had their account balances reduced by 36 percent shortly after, receiving BFX tokens in proportion to their losses.

The hackers behind the breach remained unknown for several years until on February 8th, 2022, when news broke that the United States Department of Justice arrested two individuals, Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan (shown below), for alleged conspiracy to launder the money, worth the equivalent of $4.5 billion at the time.

The government proceeded to seize $3.6 billion of the stolen funds, reportedly the largest financial seizure in history.[2] According to the Justice Department:

The criminal complaint alleges that Lichtenstein and Morgan employed numerous sophisticated laundering techniques, including using fictitious identities to set up online accounts; utilizing computer programs to automate transactions, a laundering technique that allows for many transactions to take place in a short period of time; depositing the stolen funds into accounts at a variety of virtual currency exchanges and darknet markets and then withdrawing the funds, which obfuscates the trail of the transaction history by breaking up the fund flow; converting bitcoin to other forms of virtual currency, including anonymity-enhanced virtual currency (AEC), in a practice known as “chain hopping”; and using U.S.-based business accounts to legitimize their banking activity.

The couple faces a maximum of 25 years in prison for the crimes: conspiracy to money launder, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and conspiracy to defraud the United States, which carries a maximum 5-year sentence.


Online Reactions

As news of the Bitfinex hackers being caught spread on social media in early February 2022, attention turned to the social media posts of Lichtenstein and Morgan as people joked about the looks and posts of the couple following their identification. Morgan had a TikTok account[3] where she posted raps related to cryptocurrency and other various content. She also penned an article in Forbes[4] in 2019 about how she enjoyed rapping.

When social media users discovered Morgan's amateur raps, many commented on how they thought the songs were shockingly terrible. On February 8th, 2022, Twitter user @puttinyadown posted a video of Morgan's rap "Bad Bitch," gaining over 762,000 views, 1,300 retweets and 6,400 likes in less than 24 hours (shown below, top). User @ConnorSephton then posted another rap video of Morgan's, gaining over 200 retweets and 450 likes in a similar timeframe (shown below, bottom).

Several users made jokes comparing Lichtenstein and Morgan to Jason Bateman and Laura Linney in the Netflix show Ozark, as the pair's characters are also involved in money laundering for a Mexican cartel. On February 8th, Twitter user @Fintechfrank[5] posted a side-by-side comparison, gaining over 220 retweets and 2,200 likes in less than 24 hours (shown below, left). The following day, Twitter user @fimoculous[6] posted a parody of the Ozark logo with Lichetnstein and Morgan (shown below, right).

Frank Chaparro ... @fintechfrank 12:41 PM · Feb 8, 2022 · Twitter for iPhone NETFLIX COIN Z F

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