The Department of Justice has touted its success prosecuting crypto-related misconduct for years. It has indicted individuals for deploying digital ransomware; shut down child pornography websites that relied on virtual currency accounts; and dismantled terrorist financing campaigns fueled by cryptocurrency donations. The government has also publicized its recent success seizing billions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency traced to illegal activity on the dark web, including to ransomware payments. DOJ’s principal focus has been on the criminal actors themselves, and not necessarily on the companies that facilitate illegal digital asset transactions. That is now likely to change.
On Oct. 6, 2021, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced the creation of a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET), a group comprised of federal prosecutors from the Money Laundering Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS), and other Assistant U.S. Attorneys detailed from U.S. Attorneys’ offices around the country. NCET is poised to “investigate, support, and pursue cases against cryptocurrency exchanges, infrastructure providers, and other entities that are enabling the misuse of cryptocurrency and related products to commit or facilitate criminal activity.” This announcement represents a marked shift in focus from the criminal actors themselves to the companies that, in the government’s view, provide the services and technology in the crypto space to make the crimes possible.