'Like Genghis Khan, but With More Pizzazz': What We Know About the Accused Bitfinex Money Launderers
Meet the alleged launderers behind the DOJ's largest-ever crypto recovery.
They are successful and glamorous, in a Bushwick, Brooklyn, sort of way. And on Tuesday, U.S. officials arrested them on allegations they sought to launder billions of dollars worth of crypto stemming from a 2016 hack of the Bitfinex crypto exchange.
She is a young marketing entrepreneur with a cheekish rapper alter ego and a lot of bylines in business magazines. Her husband is a tech entrepreneur who founded a blockchain startup that promised users a chance to keep their privacy. Now their own privacy is gone as they’re charged with being heavily involved in one of the largest crypto hacks in history.
For Heather Morgan and Ilya “Dutch” Lichtenstein, it’s not a long distance from New York's hipster-soaked city cafes to the federal courthouse, but it’s a long way from where they appeared to be going.
Federal officials allege Lichtenstein and Morgan kept 2,000 crypto wallet addresses and their corresponding seed phrases in a spreadsheet stored on a cloud storage service. The feds accessed the spreadsheet with a warrant.
While the complaint warrant filed by U.S. authorities today accuse Lichtenstein and Morgan of being significantly involved in what happened with the Bitfinex hack, they did not accuse Lichtenstein or Morgan of being the actual hackers. Rather, the feds said, “In or around August 2016, a hacker breached Victim [virtual currency exchange’s] security systems and infiltrated its infrastructure.”
That leaves the door open for others to be charged with that or for more definitive statements to come out later.
‘Genghis Khan’ and the privacy champion
A University of California, Davis grad, Morgan spent time in the Middle East, getting a Master of Arts degree in international economic development at the American University in Cairo and studying Turkish monetary policy in Ankara’s Bilkent University, according to what appears to be her LinkedIn profile. (She calls herself “Turkish Martha Stewart” in a music video.)
At 23 she built a company called SalesFolk, which uses a stable of copywriters to pump out cold emails for companies wanting to market their wares on the internet.
“I’m going to tell you my secret for making dreams a reality,” Morgan said in a TikTok video. “I started my company when I was 23 and grew it into a multimillion-dollar business with zero outside funding. I had no connections. I didn’t go to an Ivy League school and I wasn’t trust-funded. How did I do it? I learned a simple framework in Silicon Valley from some top entrepreneurs that are now billionaires that I live by. It goes like this: automate, eliminate, delegate.”
She counts self-proclaimed “crypto genius” James Altucher and Indiegogo founder Slava Rubin as LinkedIn connections, as well as a few CoinDesk alumni.
A Forbes contributor, she wrote an article titled, “Experts Share Tips To Protect Your Business From Cybercriminals” and regularly wrote for the likes of Inc. Magazine.
Interestingly, one piece she did for Forbes included quotes from BitGo's chief compliance officer, Matt Parrella. BitGo provided the multi-signature wallets and was custodian for Bitfinex at the time of the nearly 120,000 bitcoin hack in 2016. "In order to withdraw such a large amount of funds, BitGo would likely have had to sign off on those transactions," Stan Higgins wrote at the time for CoinDesk.
Oh, and she is a rap star. OK, not quite like fellow entrepreneur Jay-Z or even Vanilla Ice, but her humorous takes were mildly reminiscent of Kitty from a few years ago. Going by the name Razzlekhan (“like Genghis Khan, but with more pizzazz,” proclaims her website), Morgan pumped out songs over the past few months that weren’t going to make it on the radio but could certainly make for a fun show.
“Razzlekhan is a surrealist artist with synesthesia making music for MI$FIT$. 💜🧞♀️ Razz creates sexy horror-comedy raps with an authentically awkward twang. This ‘digital bedouin’ gives you a taste of the silk road--from Cairo to Hong Kong,” says her Spotify page. The title of one song, “SaaSholes,” is a nod to her professional career as a SaaS entrepreneur.
Her song “GILFALICIOUS” is about a “gilf,” which one assumes is an acronym for “grandma I’d like to have coffee with” or thereabouts. “I made the song, GILFALICIOUS, as a humorous attack on #ageism against women & #sexism in general. If I make it to 90, this is EXACTLY how I want to be…” she said on Instagram. Unfortunately for her, there is a chance she may reach that age on the wrong side of prison bars.
Morgan’s partner, Dutch Lichtenstein, isn’t quite the same social media presence. He is, however, an alumnus of the prestigious Silicon Valley accelerator program Y Combinator; with that initial funding, he co-founded a data and adtech startup called MixRank which secured funding from Mark Cuban, among others (the company is still active, though Lichtenstein appears to have left in 2016).
He also advised decentralized identity startup Endpass, according to his LinkedIn profile. Morgan was Endpass’ CEO, per Crunchbase.
Occasionally, Lichtenstein took to Twitter to warn people about the threat of hacks. After a post by one Twitter user saying, “when you buy an ape on opensea it should pop up a big red warning sign that says never give your seed phrase to anyone, especially m*tamask support,” Lichtenstein chimed in with approval, saying, “There really should be a mandatory security tutorial with a test at the end for many crypto assets.”
Will Gottsegen and Danny Nelson contributed reporting.
UPDATE: Feb. 8, 2022 (21:49 UTC): Added Forbes article which included an interview with a BitGo executive.
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