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Financial Crime: Husband-wife ‘crypto couple’ discussing plea deal with prosecutors in $4.5 billion bitcoin heist: court filing

The husband and wife “crypto couple” charged in connection with a $4.5 billion bitcoin heist in 2016 are in talks with prosecutors about copping a plea, according to a court filing on Monday.

Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, and his wife Heather Morgan, 31, face a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in federal prison on charges of money laundering and fraud in the case.

The pair were busted in late February after investigators found $3.6 billion in bitcoin
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that had been stolen in a hack of the Bitfinex trading platform in 2016 in crypto wallets the couple controlled. At the time of the heist, the bitcoin was worth $71 million, but had skyrocketed in value to $4.5 billion at the time of their arrest.

One of the key investigative questions revolves around what role, if any, the couple played in the initial hack. Neither has been charged with perpetrating the hack itself. 

In a court filing on Monday, prosecutors said both sides had agreed to postpone a hearing scheduled for later this week until early May “to facilitate the discovery process and plea discussions between the parties.” 

Lawyers for Lichtenstein and Morgan didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. In early March, Morgan brought on her own legal team and separated from that of her husband.

The couple’s arrest, coupled with Morgan’s outspoken persona on social media and alter ego as a comedic rapper called Razzlekhan, triggered a media firestorm and sent shockwaves through Silicon Valley and the world of cryptocurrency obsessives where they were known. 

Acquaintances said the pair had done little to reveal that they had been sitting atop an illicit fortune for years, while presenting themselves as fairly typical Silicon Valley strivers.  But prosecutors said the couple had been slowly trying to launder the stolen money, while laying the groundwork to flee to Russia if necessary.

Lichtenstein is being held without bail as he awaits trial. Morgan was released on $3 million bond and has been confined to the couple’s Wall Street apartment.

In late February, prosecutors had hinted that a plea deal was possible when filing for a similar extension for a required procedural hearing, saying they wanted extra time “to allow the parties to engage in discussions of possible resolutions short of trial.”  

But Monday’s filing was the first to specifically mention that plea bargain discussions were happening. 

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