Tornado Cash Founders Charged With Money Laundering And Sanctions Violations

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Merrick B. Garland, the Attorney General of the United States, Christopher A. Wray, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Nicole M. Argentieri, the Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Matthew G. Olsen, the Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, James Smith, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Office of the FBI, and Bryant Jackson, the Special Agent in Charge of the Cincinnati Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”), announced today the unsealing of an Indictment charging ROMAN STORM and ROMAN SEMENOV with conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit sanctions violations, and conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business.  The charges in the Indictment arise from the defendants’ alleged creation, operation, and promotion of Tornado Cash, a cryptocurrency mixer that facilitated more than $1 billion in money laundering transactions and laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for the Lazarus Group, the sanctioned North Korean cybercrime organization.  ROMAN STORM was arrested today in the state of Washington and will be presented today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.  The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla.  SEMENOV remains at large.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As alleged, Tornado Cash was an infamous cryptocurrency mixer that laundered more than $1 billion in criminal proceeds and violated U.S. sanctions.  Roman Storm and Roman Semenov allegedly operated Tornado Cash and knowingly facilitated this money laundering.  While publicly claiming to offer a technically sophisticated privacy service, Storm and Semenov in fact knew that they were helping hackers and fraudsters conceal the fruits of their crimes.  Today’s indictment is a reminder that money laundering through cryptocurrency transactions violates the law, and those who engage in such laundering will face prosecution.”

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said: “Today’s announcement should remind criminal organizations everywhere in the world that they are neither untraceable nor anonymous.  You can’t hide from us behind a keyboard — whether you’re a hacker or facilitator.  Those charged today engaged in a conspiracy to launder money for cybercriminals, including for a North Korean cybercrime organization seeking to evade sanctions.  As we have with this operation, the FBI is going to keep dismantling the infrastructure used by cyber criminals to commit and profit from their crimes, and holding anyone who assists those criminals accountable.”

Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri said: “Cryptocurrency mixers have become the go-to method for criminals to conceal their ill-gotten gains.  As alleged, the defendants operated Tornado Cash as a safe haven for criminal actors to obfuscate the trail of funds tied to their criminal activities, such as computer hacking and wire fraud.  The Criminal Division will continue to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of those who seek to criminally exploit the cryptocurrency ecosystem.”

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen said: “As stated in the indictment, the defendants’ cryptocurrency service facilitated more than $1 billion in illicit transactions, and they knowingly allowed a globally sanctioned cybercrime group to launder hundreds of millions of dollars on behalf of the North Korean regime.  The Justice Department – alongside our domestic and international law enforcement partners – will use every tool in our arsenal to pursue and dismantle the criminal networks that enable US sanctions violations wherever they operate.”

FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith said: “Today’s indictment of Tornado Cash co-founders Roman Storm and Roman Semenov highlights their alleged role in creating a cryptocurrency mixer that ultimately served as a gateway for the laundering of more than $1 billion in criminal proceeds.  As alleged, when it became clear that a sanctioned North Korean cybercrime organization was using the platform to launder hundreds of millions of dollars derived from cyber heists, Storm and Semenov turned a blind eye to the illicit activity and made public representations that they were compliant with sanctions laws.  Today’s enforcement actions remind the public that the FBI, when faced with illegal activity, is committed to tracing the untraceable, and will remain focused on protecting victims of financial crime wherever those crimes are committed — be it through the traditional banking system or the virtual currency blockchain.”

IRS-CI Special Agent in Charge Bryant Jackson said: “As alleged, Tornado Cash was used to launder over $1 billion.  IRS Criminal Investigation’s Special Agents use their financial expertise to follow the flow of cryptocurrency transactions and dismantle major money laundering organizations that try to conceal the criminal source of their funds.  Today’s indictment is a direct result of our collaboration with our law enforcement partners, both in the U.S. and abroad.  Through our work together, those who use deceit and fraud to line their pockets with illegal profits will be held accountable.”

As alleged in the Indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court and court filings:[1]

ROMAN STORM and ROMAN SEMENOV were two of the three founders of the Tornado Cash service, a cryptocurrency mixer that allowed its customers to engage in untraceable transfers of cryptocurrency.  The defendants and their co-conspirators created the core features of the Tornado Cash service, paid for critical infrastructure to operate the Tornado Cash service, promoted the Tornado Cash service, and made millions of dollars in profits from operating the Tornado Cash service.  The Tornado Cash service advertised to customers that it provided untraceable and anonymous financial transactions, and STORM and SEMENOV chose not to implement know your customer or anti-money laundering programs as required by law.  As a result, the Tornado Cash service was used to launder more than $1 billion in criminal proceeds.  STORM and SEMENOV knew about these money laundering transactions and received complaints and requests for help from victims of hacking and other cybercrimes.  However, they refused to implement any controls and continued to operate the Tornado Cash service and facilitate these money laundering transactions.  

In April and May 2022, the Tornado Cash service was allegedly used by the Lazarus Group, a sanctioned North Korean cybercrime organization, to launder hundreds of millions of dollars in hacking proceeds.  STORM and SEMENOV knew that the Tornado Cash service they were operating was engaging in these sanctions-violating transactions.  They implemented a change in the service so that they could make a public announcement that they were compliant with sanctions, but in their private chats, they agreed that this change would be ineffective.  They then continued to operate the Tornado Cash service and facilitate hundreds of millions of dollars in further sanctions-violating transactions, helping the Lazarus Group to transfer criminal proceeds from a cryptocurrency wallet that had been designated by the Office of Foreign Assets Control as blocked property.

*                *                *

ROMAN STORM, 34, of Auburn, Washington, and ROMAN SEMENOV, 35, a Russian national, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and one count of conspiracy to violate the International Economic Emergency Powers Act, which each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  They are also each charged with conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transmitting business, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.    

The statutory maximum sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by a judge. 

Mr. Williams praised the investigative work of the FBI and IRS-CI.  He also acknowledged the assistance of the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs.  Mr. Williams further thanked the Joint Chiefs of Global Tax Enforcement (“J5”) for their assistance in the investigation.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit and the Criminal Division’s National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (“NCET”).  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thane Rehn and Benjamin Gianforti are in charge of the prosecution.

The NCET was established to combat the growing illicit use of cryptocurrencies and digital assets.  Within the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, the NCET conducts and supports investigations into individuals and entities that enable the use of digital assets to commit and facilitate a variety of crimes, with a particular focus on virtual currency exchanges, mixing and tumbling services, and infrastructure providers.  The NCET also sets strategic priorities regarding digital asset technologies, identifies areas for increased investigative and prosecutorial focus, and leads the Department’s efforts to collaborate with domestic and foreign government agencies as well as the private sector to aggressively investigate and prosecute crimes involving cryptocurrency and digital assets.

The allegations in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment and the description of the Indictment set forth herein constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.


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