The Ballad of Heather Morgan and Ilya Lichtenstein, Bitcoins Bonnie and Clyde | Vanity Fair

It was around 3 a.m. m. the first time they arrived. An anonymous, anonymous government vehicle pulled up to the imposing brown brick and blue glass building in downtown Manhattan known simply by its address: 75 Wall Street. the city that never sleeps was in that rare moment when the shrill honk of car horns and the rattle of subway cars had been replaced by a deep, albeit short, sleep. Agents got out of their vehicle and walked through the revolving doors of the 42-story building, across the gleaming white oak floors of the lobby to reach the doorman on duty that night. it was 2021, in the midst of the second wave of the covid pandemic, and the lower 18 floors of “75”, which had originally opened as the andaz hotel, had been closed due to the virus. seeing someone at that hour was rare for the doorman, but seeing a group of federal agents was an absolute anomaly.

“We are picking up signs that someone in this building is trafficking child pornography,” one of the officers told the doorman. “We need to get up on the roof to see if we can trace where the signal is coming from.” The doorman, although slightly taken aback, obeyed and pointed the way to the elevators.

Reading: Bitcoin bonnie and clyde

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

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A couple of weeks went by and the feds came back. and again a few weeks after that. at one point, the night porter offered them a little investigative tip. “Are you sure you’re in the right building?” he said. “Is this more like something you’d find at 95 wall street?” In fact, 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 drug busts by the NYPD; reviews of the building online had called it a haven for coke dealers, gangsters and all-night airbnb parties. More recently, a high-level bodyguard had been killed there, stuffed into a 55-gallon drum and hauled out the back door before being dumped in New Jersey.

“no,” the agents said. “Definitely this building.” and they went to the roof again. then one afternoon the pattern changed. agents showed interest in a specific floor. the signal they were looking for was apparently getting stronger.

In reality, the agents were not 75 years old due to child pornography. The crime they tracked there had originally taken place in Hong Kong in the summer of 2016, when someone found a flaw in the code of crypto exchange Bitfinex and stole 119,754 Bitcoin, worth about $72 million at the time. since then, its value had multiplied by 70 and was now in the billions. After half a decade of tracking and tracing, climbing on roofs and prowling in the dead of night, the feds finally, finally, found the people who had somehow gotten their hands on that stolen bitcoin. a married couple in their early 30s 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 an investor and part-time mental magician. His wife, Heather “Razzlekhan” Morgan, from the United States, was a businesswoman, journalist, and rapper.

that was just the beginning, as i discovered in more than 50 interviews with friends and former colleagues of the couple, investigators close to the case, and employees and residents of 75 wall street. As the feds were about to find out, this would turn out to be one of the weirdest cases in the ever-evolving world of cryptocrime, and the first clue to just how weird this case would get was right there on the couple’s social media feeds. accounts.

“razzle, dazzle, bitch!”

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ah, bitcoin, a new era of money. that invention-clipping-ideology that promised to usher in an era of shiny, sparkling and playful financial technotopia. the fiscal lumber of our generation! And by God, the internet needed it. At the turn of the century, when this weird bitcoin thing was being slowly squeezed out of the birth canals of the web’s most arcane forums, financial anonymity simply didn’t exist online. you bought something digitally and got a database tattooed somewhere with all the microscopic details about you.

Bitcoin, which made its quiet debut in 2009, promised to change that. he continued to disrupt the global financial landscape in ways no one could have believed possible (anyone who tells you they foresaw the world we live in today is either a liar or a bitcoin billionaire). crypto now accounts for $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, though a huge crash in value this year has even some true believers wondering if that prediction will work.

The rise of cryptocurrencies also ushered in a new era of crime unlike anything we’ve seen before. Soon dark web sites appeared that made it easy to buy drugs, guns, murder, 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, a relatively obscure crime called a ransomware attack emerged, where a company’s or person’s computer system is taken hostage and the only way to unlock it is by paying a fee in—whatever. you guessed it—crypto. Although this type of hijacking dates back to the early 1990s, payment was often made in cash or by credit card and as such was rare. Last year, the FBI released a report saying there are now 4,000 ransomware attacks every day (compared to seven bank robberies a day), and that online perpetrators stole $14 billion worth of bitcoin in 2021 alone ( traditional bank robbers, by comparison, only got away with a couple hundred million). Due to the ease of cryptocurrencies, hospitals are now being held hostage and held at financial gunpoint. banks and hedge funds are paralyzed. even a meatpacking plant was recently forced to pay $11 million in bitcoin for access to its beef patties, chicken cutlets, and pork sausages.

then there are the other crimes, where new waves of hackers are making their way using phishing, phishing, rootkit, worm, cloaking and brute force to steal all manner of digital assets, from nfts to literally (and sometimes figuratively) making off with millions in digital gold.

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