bitcoin

Heather Morgan and Ilya Lichtenstein’s Ballad, Bonnie and Clyde of Bitcoin


It was around 3 a.m. the first time they arrived. An unmarked, nondescript government-issued vehicle pulled up in front of the towering brown brick and blue glass building in midtown Manhattan known simply by its address: 75 Wall Street. The city that never sleeps was in that rare moment when the ostinato of car horns and clanking subway trains had been replaced by a deep, if brief, sleep. Officers exited their vehicles and walked through the revolving doors of the 42-story building, traversing the lobby’s gleaming white oak floors to reach the doorman on duty that evening. It was 2021, in the midst of the second wave of the COVID pandemic, and the lower 18 floors of “75”, which originally opened as the Andaz Hotel, had closed due to the virus. Seeing anyone at this hour was rare for the doorman, but seeing a group of federal agents was a complete anomaly.

“We are picking up signals that someone in this building is trafficking child pornography,” one of the officers told the doorman. “We need to get on the roof to see if we can track where the signal is coming from.” The doorman, although slightly surprised, complied and led the way to the elevators.

As officers entered one of the building’s four elevators, the doorman wondered which resident of the 346-unit building, where condos can cost up to $7million, might be the trafficker of child pornography. After a while, the officers returned to the lobby and left the building.

A few weeks passed and the feds came back. And again a few weeks later. At one point, the night porter offered them a little investigative advice. “Are you sure you’re in the right building?” he said. “It’s more like something you’d find at 95 Wall Street?” Indeed, 95 was far more evil than 75. During that same summer of 2021, the shiny glass building across the street had been the site of a series of NYPD drug arrests; Reviews of the building online had called it a haven for coke pushers, gangsters and all-night Airbnb parties. More recently, a high-end escort was killed there, stuffed into a 55-gallon drum and pushed out the back door before being dumped in New Jersey.

“No,” the officers replied. “Certainly this building.” And they went back to the roof. Then, one night, the pattern changed. Agents have shown interest in a specific floor. The signal they were looking for, it seemed, was getting stronger and stronger.

In reality, the agents weren’t 75 because of child pornography. The crime they tracked there originally took place in Hong Kong in the summer of 2016, when someone found a flaw in the code of the crypto exchange Bitfinex and stole 119,754 Bitcoins, worth of about $72 million at the time. Its value had since increased 70 times and was now in the billions. After half a decade of stalking and tracing, climbing rooftops and sneaking around in the middle of the night, feds finally had – finally! – found the people who got their hands on this stolen Bitcoin. A married couple in their early thirties, with a wild online presence and a Bengal cat named Clarissa (who had her own Instagram account). The husband, Ilya “Dutch” Lichtenstein, a Russian-born émigré, was a part-time investor and mental magician. His wife, Heather “Razzlekhan” Morgan, who was from the United States, was an entrepreneur, journalist and rapper.

That was just the beginning, as I’ve discovered in more than 50 interviews with friends and former colleagues of the couple, investigators familiar with the case, and employees and residents of 75 Wall Street. As feds were about to find out, this would turn out to be one of the strangest cases in the ever-changing world of crypto crime – and the first hint of how weird this case was was right there. there on the couple’s social media. accounts.

“RAZZLE, DAZZLE, BITCH!”

Ah, bitcoin, a new era of money. This invention-slash ideology that promised to usher in an era of scintillating, bubbly, frolicking financial technotopia. The fiscal Woodstock of our generation! And by God, did the internet need it. At the turn of the years, when that weird bitcoin thing was slowly being extracted from the birth canals of the web’s most obscure forums, financial anonymity simply didn’t exist online. You bought something digitally, and a database somewhere was watermarked with every microscopic detail about you.

Bitcoin, which made its quiet debut in 2009, promised to change that. It has turned the global financial landscape upside down in ways no one ever thought possible (anyone who tells you they planned the world we live in today is either a liar or a Bitcoin billionaire). Crypto is now worth $3 trillion in wealth, and the world’s largest financial institutions, including Chase and the Bank of England, cite digital currencies as the future of finance, although a major meltdown in value this year has even some true believers wondering if this prediction will come to pass.

The rise of cryptocurrencies has also brought about an unprecedented new era of crime. Sites quickly appeared on the dark web that facilitated the purchase of drugs, guns, murders, fake diplomas, ricin, body parts, bombs, rocket launchers and even uranium , all using Bitcoin. And a few years later, because of that promise of financial anonymity, came the rise of a relatively obscure crime called the ransomware attack, where a company’s or a person’s computer system is taken hostage and the only way to unlock it is to pay a fee in – you guessed it – crypto. Although this type of hacking dates back to the early 90s, payment was often made in cash or by credit card, and as such, was rare. Last year, the FBI published a report stating that there are now 4,000 ransomware attacks every day (compared to seven bank robberies a day), and that online perpetrators stole $14 billion in Bitcoin nothing only in 2021 (traditional bank robbers, by comparison, only got away with a few hundred million). Due to the ease of crypto, hospitals are now being held hostage and held at financial gunpoint. Banks and hedge funds are at a standstill. Even a meatpacking plant was recently forced to pay $11 million in Bitcoin to gain access to its beef patties, chicken cutlets, and pork sausages.

Then there are the Other Crimes, where new waves of hackers phish, tamper, rootkit, worm, cloak and brute force to steal all manner of digital assets, from NFTs to literally (and sometimes figuratively) flee with millions in digital gold.

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