On October 6, 2021 Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco announced the creation of a National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET) to tackle complex investigations and to prosecute criminal misuses of cryptocurrency. Particularly, the team seeks to combat crimes committed by virtual currency exchanges, mixing and tumbling services, and money laundering infrastructure actors. Armed with an arsenal of expertise from the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section (MLARS), Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) and other sections in the division; the NCET aims to strengthen its capacity to dismantle the financial entities that enable criminal actors to flourish -and quite frankly to profit- from abusing cryptocurrency platforms. [1]

The need for NCET has primarily been driven by the various uses of cryptocurrency in criminal activity. Cryptocurrency is the primary demand mechanism for ransomware payments, money laundering, and the operation of illegal or unregistered money services businesses. Also, cryptocurrency is the preferred means of exchange of value on “dark markets” for illegal drugs, weapons, malware, and other hacking tools. The NCET will foster the development of the expertise in cryptocurrency and blockchain technologies and play a critical role for law enforcement authorities grappling with these new technologies and new criminal tradecrafts.[2]

The formulation of the NCET can be viewed as an indication of the broader legitimacy of the crypto industry.[3] NCET was officially formed only a few days after the September 24, 2021 announcement by the People’s Bank of China stating all cryptocurrency transactions are illegal. Further, conspiracies surrounding cryptocurrencies are continuing to emerge on a grander scale. For example, the DOJ indicted Larry Harmon, who engaged in a $300 million money laundering scheme using Helix, a bitcoin “mixer” that kept criminal transactions confidential while cryptocurrency was exchanged.[4]

Similarly, a Canadian man was sentenced on September 8, 2021 to 140 months in federal prison for conspiring to launder tens of millions of dollars stolen in various wire and bank fraud schemes. According to court documents, the man and his coconspirators used business email compromise schemes, ATM cash-out and bank-cyber heists to steal money from victims and then launder the money through bank accounts and digital currency.[5]

The creation of the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team is a strong step in the right direction towards combatting cybercrime. The team will draw and build upon the established expertise across the Criminal Division to investigate, deter and tackle the omnipresence of cybercrimes.


[1] DOJ Press Release, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco Announces National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (Oct. 6, 2021), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/deputy-attorney-general-lisa-o-monaco-announces-national-cryptocurrency-enforcement-team.

[2] Id.

[3] Baker McKenzie, U.S. DOJ Launches “National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team”, Lexology (Oct. 12, 2021), https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=c9b75b3e-97e2-4057-ac55-841bb07a22a5.

[4] DOJ Press Release, Ohio Resident Charged with Operating Darknet-Based Bitcoin “Mixer,” which Laundered Over $300 Million (Feb. 13, 2020), https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/ohio-resident-charged-operating-darknet-based-bitcoin-mixer-which-laundered-over-300-million; see also Indictment, U.S. v. Harmon, No. 19-cr-00395 (D.D.C. Dec. 3, 2019), https://www.justice.gov/opa/press-release/file/1249026/download.

[5] DOJ Press Release, International Money Launderer Sentenced to over 11 Years in Federal Prison for Laundering Millions from Cyber Crime Schemes (Sept. 8, 2021), https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/pr/international-money-launderer-sentenced-over-11-years-federal-prison-laundering.