Just over a week after announcing the agency’s largest-ever financial seizure – $3.6 billion in Bitcoin – Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said today that Eun Young Choi will serve as the first director of the Department of Justice’s National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team (NCET).

Monaco announced Choi’s appointment, along with the FBI’s creation of a specialized cryptocurrency team – the Virtual Asset Exploitation Unit (VAXU) – at the annual Munich Cyber Security Conference today. Both actions should help the DoJ and FBI’s work to disrupt the ransomware business model, where ransoms are often paid in cryptocurrency.

“Ransomware and digital extortion — like many other crimes fueled by cryptocurrency — only work if the bad guys get paid, which means we have to bust their business model,” Monaco said in live-streamed remarks.

“The seizure of over $3.6 billion in stolen bitcoin … demonstrates that even in cyberspace, the Department of Justice is able to use a tried-and-true investigative technique: following the money,” she said. “It’s what led us to Al Capone in the 30s, it helped us destroy La Cosa Nostra in the 60s, and it took down terrorist financing networks in the early 2000s.”

“The currency might be virtual but the message to companies is concrete: if you report to us, we can follow the money and not only help you, but hopefully prevent the next victim,” she said.

While Monaco had previously announced the creation of the NCET, it had been operating without a director before today’s announcement of Choi’s appointment.

Choi is a prosecutor who has spent nearly the last decade at DoJ, most recently serving as Senior Counsel to the Deputy Attorney General. She’ll now run point on what another DoJ official called the “focal point” of the agency’s efforts on crime involving cryptocurrency.

“With the rapid innovation of digital assets and distributed ledger technologies, we have seen a rise in their illicit use by criminals who exploit them to fuel cyberattacks and ransomware and extortion schemes; traffic in narcotics, hacking tools and illicit contraband online; commit thefts and scams; and launder the proceeds of their crimes,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of DoJ’s Criminal Division said in a release today.

“Eun Young is an accomplished leader on cyber and cryptocurrency issues, and I am pleased that she will continue her service as the NCET’s inaugural Director, spearheading the department’s efforts in this area,” Polite added.

Choi’s work will put her in close collaboration with the newly established VAXU, as well as the DoJ Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section, and other DoJ offices.

“The department has been at the forefront of investigating and prosecuting crimes involving digital currencies since their inception,” Choi said in the same release. “The NCET will play a pivotal role in ensuring that as the technology surrounding digital assets grows and evolves, the department in turn accelerates and expands its efforts to combat their illicit abuse by criminals of all kinds. I am excited to lead the NCET’s incredible and talented team of attorneys, and to get to work on this important priority for the department.”

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Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson
Lamar Johnson is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.