Cindy Weisgram hasn’t been checking the news much lately. Recently laid off from her job, the Tehama, California native has used the newfound downtime to relax and think about what she’ll do next.
So when Weisgram, 60, heard that her cousin, Heather Rhiannon Morgan, had been arrested by federal agents in New York City on charges of laundering $4.5 billion of stolen Bitcoin, she was—to put it mildly—astonished.
“It never seemed like she really had a normal day job,” Weisgram, who now lives in Ketchikan, Alaska, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. “At one point, about three years ago…there was some mention of her being, like, a millionaire… I always wondered how she had so much money, but damn.”
Morgan, 31, and her husband Ilya “Dutch” Lichtenstein, 34, stand accused of trying to launder 119,754 Bitcoin purloined from the Bitfinex crypto exchange in a 2016 hack. The virtual currency was transferred into a digital wallet in Lichtenstein’s name, as well as accounts controlled by both, and investigators ultimately followed the money to the couple’s two-bedroom apartment on Wall Street.
The Bitcoin, worth some $71 million at the time of the hack, had increased in value to $4.5 billion by the time of the Feb. 8 bust. The feds were able to get their hands on $3.6 billion of that, making it the largest financial seizure in U.S. history.
A criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court lays out the details of a staggeringly intricate web of money transfers and pseudonymous accounts, which was ultimately untangled by special agents with the IRS, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security.
Morgan, who performed as a rapper under the name “Razzlekhan,” has also been a Forbes contributor, writing some 55 columns for the financial media outlet over the past several years, including one story published in June 2020 headlined, “Experts Share Tips To Protect Your Business From Cybercriminals.”
Morgan and Lichtenstein’s alleged haul was so huge that they were unable to filter all of the Bitcoin through the legitimate financial system to make it appear legit, according to the feds. However, the complaint against the pair says they managed to convert “around $2.9 million worth” of the illicit Bitcoin to hard currency between 2017 and 2021—enough to enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle.
“She said she made a lot of money off of her cold emails, and articles she was writing for newspapers and magazines and such.”
“I always kind of attributed [the money she had] to that cold-email company that she always talked about, how she made her fortune in that,” recalled Weisgram, a former Coast Guard wife who serves as a Ketchikan volunteer ambulance dispatcher. “She said she made a lot of money off of her cold emails, and articles she was writing for newspapers and magazines and such.”
In 2013, Morgan founded a company called SalesFolk, which bills itself as “the first company to specialize in cold email copywriting.” The company appeared to be on the up-and-up, and Morgan published videos online with, among other things, advice for people trying to break into tech. But prosecutors allege that she and Lichtenstein used the company’s accounts to launder the stolen Bitcoin.
“My boyfriend (now husband) gifted me cryptocurrency over several years (2014, 2015,), [sic] which have appreciated,” she allegedly wrote in a 2019 email to an unnamed virtual currency exchange. “I have been keeping them in cold storage.”
As Razzlekhan, Morgan described her persona as “like Genghis Khan, but with more pizzazz.”
Her lyrics include lines about “getting high in the cemetery,” where, she boasts, “I love me some grave grass.”
EMBED VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=up2bqbay8hg
“No one knows for sure where this rapper’s from—could be the North African desert, the jungles of Vietnam, or another universe,” her website says. “All that matters is she’s here to stick up for misfits and underdogs everywhere. (We do know that she’s descended from a nomadic tribe, though!)”
In reality, Morgan grew up in Tehama, just down the road from Weisgram’s side of the family. It’s a sleepy town of less than 500 people, most of whom Weisgram described as “wonderful.”
Weisgram recalled that Morgan had been a very quiet child, though one who “could be a little snot” at times when she played with Weisgram’s kids. However, once Morgan left for college at the University of California, Davis, Weisgram said she began to come out of her shell and was no longer “that shy little girl that I knew.”
“Then she moved to New York and turned into ‘Gangsta Girl,’” said Weisgram, adding that Morgan “loved to be different, she lived to dress up wild and funky and walk down the streets of New York City. She fit right in.”
While in NYC, Morgan also tried her hand at improv comedy.
“She was actually in my 101,” Matt Dennie, a former instructor at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, wrote on Twitter after learning of Morgan’s arrest. “Whatever you imagine it was like, it was… “True story: She did initiate one scene with ‘Welcome to the clinic, did you bring your own coat hanger?’ When I stopped it and asked if she was initiating an abortion scene she said yes and that abortion was funny.”
In one of her Forbes posts, Morgan wrote about her insecurity over a childhood speech impediment that “prevented me from doing a lot of things I was passionate and curious about when I was younger, from film and comedy to leadership opportunities.”
“But luckily, I was too weird and broke too many rules to have a normal job, so I decided to be an entrepreneur and start my own company when I was 23,” she wrote.
For an alleged Bitcoin launderer, Morgan didn’t ever seem to mention virtual currency of any kind, at least to Weisgram, who recalled her younger cousin talking about hunting with her dad, or traveling the world, but “absolutely nothing” about crypto, she said.
On Wednesday, Lichtenstein posted a $5 million bond, Morgan put up a $3 million bond, and their passports were seized. However, a judge in Washington, D.C., subsequently stepped in and ordered them jailed pending further review. If convicted, Lichtenstein and Morgan face a maximum of 25 years in prison. Their lawyers, Anirudh Bansal and Sam Enzer, did not respond to The Daily Beast’s requests for comment.
The latest turn in Morgan’s life is “not anything like what I know of Heather,” said Weisgram. “It’s like a dream. Did I watch too much Law & Order and now I’m just waking up?”