Two brothers, Anton and James Peraire-Bueno, who studied mathematics and computer science at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have been arrested and charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering for allegedly stealing $25 million in cryptocurrency from the Ethereum blockchain in just 12 seconds.

The U.S. Department of Justice has called this alleged heist the first of its kind, highlighting the sophisticated nature of the scheme.

According to the newly unsealed indictment, the Peraire-Bueno brothers spent months plotting their theft, exploiting the "validators" on the Ethereum blockchain, which are vital components of the integrity and security of transactions. Prosecutors allege that the duo used their highly specialized skills, acquired through their education at MIT, to fraudulently gain access to pending private transactions and alter them to obtain their victims' cryptocurrency.

"The Peraire-Bueno brothers stole $25 million in Ethereum cryptocurrency through a technologically sophisticated, cutting-edge scheme they plotted for months and executed in seconds," said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. She emphasized the role of Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents in unravelling this "first-of-its kind wire fraud and money laundering scheme."

The brothers allegedly engaged in a "baiting" operation targeting three specific victim traders on the digital Ethereum platform, starting in December 2022. Although the plot took months to plan, investigators say it took only 12 seconds to execute, netting the brothers approximately $25 million from their unwitting victims.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams stated, "The defendants' scheme calls the very integrity of the blockchain into question," referring to the public ledger that records crypto payments. The alleged theft has raised concerns about the security and reliability of the Ethereum blockchain and the potential for similar sophisticated attacks in the future.

Between April and June of last year, the Peraire-Bueno brothers are accused of laundering their illicit gains through shell companies. Prosecutors say the duo even rejected repeated requests from a victim, the victim's attorney, and an Ethereum representative to return the stolen cryptocurrency.

The MIT Registrar's Office confirmed that Anton Peraire-Bueno earned a B.S. in computer science and engineering in February 2024, while James Peraire-Bueno earned a B.S. in mathematics, computer science, and aerospace engineering in June 2019, as well as a M.S. in aeronautics and astronautics in June 2021. Their prestigious education allegedly afforded them the unique set of skills necessary to carry out this first-of-its-kind endeavor.

The brothers were arrested on Tuesday and are expected to make their initial appearances in New York and Boston federal courts on Wednesday. If found guilty, they each face over 20 years in prison.

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco emphasized the Justice Department's commitment to combating fraud in the evolving cryptocurrency markets, stating, "As cryptocurrency markets continue to evolve, the Justice Department will continue to root out fraud, support victims, and restore confidence to these markets."