By Tim Cook

Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco announced during a press conference on Feb. 17 the finalized leadership of the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET) to meet the growing need for investigation into cryptocurrency-based criminal activity.

The NCET will be headed by Eun Young Choi, senior counsel to the Deputy A.G.’s office and former cybercrime coordinator at the U.S. attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York. Choi will report to the Assistant Attorney General through the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.

The Justice Department has touted Choi’s credentials as exceptional. She has served as lead prosecutor in numerous digital crime cases, including the hacking of J.P. Morgan Chase. She also led the single case the United States brought before a court in connection to the so-called Panama Papers, documents leaked in 2016 detailing the illicit activity of offshore entities and the public officials associated with them.

The mandate for the NCET is in line with an Oct. 6, 2021 release from the DOJ. The DOJ said it was searching “…an individual with experience with complex criminal investigations and prosecutions, as well as the technology underpinning cryptocurrencies and the blockchain” to lead the new team.

The NCET will investigate some of the newest forms of digital crime, most notably fraud in cryptocurrency exchanges and the digital infrastructure.

“I think we are sending a message that cryptocurrencies and virtual currencies should not be considered a safe haven,” said Monaco.

Since the announcement of the NCET’s formation in October 2021, it has investigated both low- and high-profile cases of cybercrime involving cryptocurrency. Following an NCET investigation, Heather Morgan and Ilya Lichtenstein, a couple in New York, were arrested on Feb. 9 for their scheme to launder about $4.5 billion stolen in a 2016 hack of Bitfinex.

The Justice Department stated it hopes the NCET will also be a leading force in combating the illegal drug trade, human trafficking, ransomware scams. Existing financial institutions such as banks will also be valuable in the fight against cryptocurrency crime as they move into the digital currency market.

Though many criminal enterprises are easily recognizable due to the nature of their trade – such as drugs, arms and ammunition, and stolen goods – the more subtle side of digital crime will not escape the NCET’s notice. The same scams targeting innocent and unaware consumers on the Internet have rapidly evolved to attract investors in cryptocurrency. Utilizing blockchain technology, the NCET aims to find out these crimes and ensure they are prosecuted using existing law enforcement and justice structures. To that end, the DOJ expects close collaboration between the NCET and trusted actors in the private sector.