The Alleged Cyber Thief Accused of Laundering $4.5 Billion in Bitcoin Is, Yes, Also an Artist and NFT Collector
The self-proclaimed artist and rapper is said to have bought NFTs with the stolen cryptocurrency.
Federal agents arrested New York City couple Ilya “Dutch” Lichtenstein and Heather Rhiannon Morgan yesterday on charges of conspiring to launder $4.5 billion in Bitcoin stolen during the 2016 Bitfinex hack—reportedly using the proceeds to buy gold and NFT art.
A self-described “raunchy rapper making surrealist art,” according to her recently scrubbed bio on Instagram, Morgan goes by the name Razzlekhan—“like Genghis Khan, but with more pizzazz,” per her website.
She also claims to be a serial entrepreneur, and serves as CEO of Endpass, a blockchain start-up founded by Lichtenstein. They both may also work at SalesFolk, an email marketing company. He, meanwhile, bills himself as a “tech entrepreneur, explorer, and occasional magician” on Medium.
Morgan has positioned herself as a cybertech expert, writing over 50 articles for Forbes, including one titled “Experts Share Tips To Protect Your Business From Cybercriminals,” reports the Daily Beast. Another suggests rapping as an antidote to burnout.
It remains unclear if the couple are also the hackers behind the 2016 heist of 119,754 Bitcoin from Hong Kong–based virtual currency exchange Bitfinex. But whoever masterminded the cryptocurrency theft is believed to have sent the money—then worth just $71 million, before Bitcoin’s rise in value in the ensuing years—to Lichtenstein’s digital wallet across 2,000 separate transactions.
Despite her claims to creativity, Instagram and Facebook features relatively few examples of art by Morgan.
In one post, she promotes a YouTube video about how she decorated “previously fugly Schwinn Elliptical to look like a dope art piece,” for a less-ugly home gym. But she mainly seems to make hand-painted and “berazzled” clothing and accessories she refers to as “streetwear”—unless, of course, her Razzlekhan identity is actually a long-term performance art piece.
A deep dive into Morgan’s social media presence turns up many photographs of the so-called artist posing with other people’s art, including works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, as well what appears to be a Louise Nevelson and a Jack Whitten, and numerous street-art murals.
She also posted images from the inaugural exhibition of the Brant Foundation on the Lower East Side and the 2020 Spring/Break Art Show in New York, where she was drawn to “The Most Beautiful Dick Pics of All Time,” a presentation of Faith Holland’s animated dick GIFs from Los Angeles’s Transfer Gallery.
In October, Morgan visited Sotheby’s ahead of the $3.8 million sale of ephemera from the famed late magician Ricky Jay’s collection. She shared a photo of herself posing with two of the lots, with the caption “I spy a few things I may wanna buy,” on Facebook.
In addition, Morgan shared a photo of herself spray-painting an image of a leaf while in Hanoi, Vietnam, in December.
Her website notes, “Razz shamelessly explores new frontiers of art, pushing the limit of what’s possible” and “her art often resembles something in between an acid trip and a delightful nightmare.”
But on the whole, she seems to be more into her music.
“We wanted this video to give people a taste of what it’s like to have synesthesia, so it kind of feels like an LSD acid trip, and has a bit of the ‘burning man vibe,'” the video description proclaimed. “Just like art and fashion of the unfortunately murdered Gianni Versace, the visuals of this cinematography feature bright bold colors and sexuality, but with a North African bedouin twist (as opposed to Greco-Roman).”
Inspirations aside, know that the song is truly terrible. The “motherfucking crocodile of Wall Street,” as Morgan calls herself in the lyrics, has absolutely zero flow—a fact which she has attempted to market as an “authentically awkward twang” on her bio for Spotify, where she has 15 monthly listeners.
Nevertheless, Lichetenstein proposed to Morgan in 2019 with “a weird, creative multi-channel marketing campaign…that captures the essence of Razzlekhan: surreal, mysterious, creepy, and sexy,” according to a Facebook post.
He wheatpasted posters promoting Razzlekhan across Manhattan, a stunt culminating with a digital billboard in Times Square that praised the rapper’s work as “the most brutally honest album of the year.”
Morgan has continued her musical pursuits during the pandemic.
The art for Razzlekhan’s latest release, “Moon n Stars,” features her and Lichtenstein sitting in front of a wall of framed art. Based on comments on one of her Facebook posts, it appears to be a photo from their wedding day.
She also commissioned artist Paige Greeley to create the cover for her 2021 single “Gilfalicious.” The painting shows Morgan poolside, as an elderly lady in a purple turban and zebra print robe, holding a baby crocodile and stepping on the back of a shirtless, muscular pool boy.
That painting is one of at least two original artworks Morgan owns. Her Facebook cover photo, painted by Diyar Al Asadi, is an abstracted portrait of her with the head of a ram and flanked by two crocodiles, which she called “the epitome of myself.”
The DOJ has declined to offer any specifics about NFT artworks the couple may have purchased with the stolen funds, according to CNBC’s Eamon Javers.
Information about Morgan and Lichtenstein’s alleged misdeeds, however, is readily available.
Special agents from the IRS-Criminal Investigation Cyber Crimes Unit cracked the case thanks to court-authorized search warrants for Lichtenstein and Morgan’s online accounts. Files inside one account contained the private access keys to the digital wallet that received the stolen Bitfinex funds.
With that information, the agents were able to recover the remaining 94,636 Bitcoin, valued at about $3.6 billion. It is the Department of Justice’s largest financial seizure ever.
The couple is believed to have used a variety of money-laundering techniques to conceal their transaction history as they moved billions of dollars. The DOJ contends they used false identities, programmed automated transactions, converted Bitcoin into other forms of virtual currency, deposited funds on darknet markets, and used business accounts to attempt to legitimize their financial activity.
“In a methodical and calculated scheme, the defendants allegedly laundered and disguised their vast fortune,” Jim Lee, chief of IRS-Criminal Investigation, said in a statement. “IRS-CI Cyber Crimes Unit special agents have once again unraveled a sophisticated laundering technique, enabling them to trace, access, and seize the stolen funds.”
The two face charges on money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to defraud the United States, which together carry a maximum sentence of 25 years. They appeared in federal court following their arrest on Tuesday, where the judge ordered a $5 million bond for Lichtenstein and $3 million bond for Morgan.
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