U.S Justice Dept revamps crypto enforcement team

Ogunsakin Mustapha
4 Min Read

By Ayomide Ogunsakin with agency reports

The U.S Department of Justice is revamping a team it launched nearly two years ago to investigate cryptocurrency-related crimes, with the motive that this move will increase the number of prosecutors available to work on the team’s growing caseload.

In a speech on Thursday, a senior Justice Department official, Nicole Argentieri said the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET), would become a permanent fixture of a section within the department’s criminal division that handles a range of computer-related investigations.

The team will also get a new leader, with Claudia Quiroz serving as acting director following the departure of its current director, Eun Young Choi, Argentieri said. Choi will be moving on to a new position within the Justice Department, according to a department spokesman.

“It’s now time to bring NCET to the next level,” Argentieri said at an event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Merging it into [Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section] will give it the resources and runway to accomplish even more.”

The Justice Department set up NCET in 2021 amid growing concerns about the ballooning size of the digital-assets industry and the ability of criminals, terrorists and other bad actors to use cryptocurrency to move and launder illicit funds.

Since then, the team’s work and profile has grown due to an industry downturn and the collapse of crypto exchange, FTX. Prosecutors have charged FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried with stealing billions of dollars from the exchange’s customers while misleading investors and lenders.

The crypto enforcement team has played a role in many of the Justice Department’s crypto-related cases. It helped bring charges against the founder and majority shareholder of Hong Kong-based exchange Bitzlato, and has assisted with an investigation into Binance, the world’s largest crypto exchange. Regulators at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission have brought separate civil cases this year against Binance and its founder and controlling shareholder, Changpeng Zhao.

FTX’s crash has increased the sense of urgency among regulators and law-enforcement officials to root out bad actors in the digital-assets industry. At the same time, officials say they are increasingly seeing cryptocurrency play a role in almost every area of the criminal underworld.

“It’s a major part of the way we see criminal activity being perpetrated right now,” Kenneth Polite, the head of the DOJ’s criminal division, said in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. Argentieri is slated to succeed Polite as acting assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division following his departure from the department later this month.

After the reorganization, NCET will exist as a unit within CCIPS, with its director serving as a deputy chief within the section, the DOJ spokesman said Thursday. In addition to maximizing resources, the move will put the prosecutors working on cryptocurrency-related cases on equal footing with those working on computer and intellectual property-related cases, according to Argentieri.

The NCET revamp follows the creation by the Justice Department of a National Security Cyber Section, which officials say will focus on cyberattacks by nation-state actors and other cyber-related threats to U.S. national security.

The organizational changes at the Justice Department reflect a recognition by its leadership that expertise on cryptocurrency and other emerging technologies is key to staying ahead of both criminal and national security-related threats facing the U.S.

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