The awkward tech couple accused of trying to launder billions of dollars in stolen Bitcoin has been temporarily split up. Jailed since their early February arrest, the husband, Ilya Lichtenstein, 34, remains behind bars, while his wife, 31-year-old Heather Morgan, has been granted bail by a Washington D.C. judge, the Washington Post reports.
On Monday, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell dubbed the evidence against the couple to be “so weighty as to be overwhelming,” but ultimately allowed Morgan to post a bail of $US3 million (around $4 million) — a bond package that included her parents’ house. Lichtenstein’s offer of $US5 million (about $7 million), meanwhile, was rejected, and he was ordered to remain in a Washington D.C. jail as the two await trial for charges of money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. If the couple are convicted on those counts, they could face up to 25 years in prison.
In case you’ve missed it, the duo are accused of trying to launder a massive fortune — approximately $US4.5 billion (that’s around $6 billion) in cryptocurrency — that was previously stolen from the exchange Bitfinex during a 2016 hacking incident. The case has garnered widespread attention due to the goofy personalities of the couple, evident via their open and prolific social media activity. Morgan, in particular, has attracted attention due to her bizarre hip hop side-career, which she perpetrated under the rap moniker “Razzlekahn.” Predictably, a docu-series of the couple’s story has already been ordered by Netflix.
Court documents filed by prosecutors in the case refer to the couple as “sophisticated cyber criminals and money launderers who present a serious risk of flight” and lay out a case against granting the couple bail, pointing to their overseas ties:
“Lichtenstein is a dual Russian and U.S. citizen who has an active Russian passport; law enforcement seized Lichtenstein’s U.S. and Russian passports during the January 5, 2022 search warrant. Lichtenstein renewed his Russian passport in 2019. Both Defendants travelled frequently prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and travel records indicate they had been to Ukraine as recently as September 2019,” the court filings note.
Other documents provide additional, interesting details. The Wall Street Journal reports that, in a recent detention memo, prosecutors apparently highlighted the lyrics to one of Morgan’s many rap songs as an indication of her hacking abilities. “Spear phish your password/all your funds transferred” she raps, in an apparent reference to “the hacking technique of spear phishing to gain access to a user’s account password, and then transferring all of the user’s funds out of the account,” as the lawyers put it.
Previous reporting has already noted that the couple apparently had a ton of shady stuff inside their apartment — the kind of stuff that would lead you to believe they were… probably up to something shady. This included a ziplock bag labelled “burner phones” which, of course, contained burner phones. Prosecutors have also said that Lichtenstein’s office contained “hollowed out” books — the kind that a spy or a comic book villain might have — though it’s not totally clear what they were used for. The duo also had Russian bank accounts, and had previously travelled to Ukraine in 2019 to obtain fake identity documents, reports have noted.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about this case — like, for instance, where a bunch of the money is. Prosecutors have previously noted that some $455 million in cryptocurrency is still unaccounted for and that it’s not clear where it might be.