“Thief-In-Law” Razhden Shulaya Convicted Of Racketeering In Manhattan Federal Court
Avtandil Khurtsidze, Shulaya’s Enforcer and Former Middleweight World Boxing Champion, Also Found Guilty of Racketeering and Wire Fraud Charges
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that RAZHDEN SHULAYA, a vor v zakone or “thief-in-law,” and AVTANDIL KHURTSIDZE, a boxing champion and SHULAYA’s enforcer, were found guilty of racketeering and related charges in connection with a sprawling and violent criminal enterprise operating in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and abroad.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “As a unanimous jury found, Razhden Shulaya and his chief enforcer, Avtandil Khurtsidze, engaged in an array of criminal schemes that included violence, extortion, theft, trafficking in stolen goods, and fraud. Shulaya, a Russian ‘vor v zakone’ or ‘thief-in-law,’ is now a convicted thief under U.S. law. Both defendants now await sentencing for their crimes.”
As established by the evidence at trial:
The Shulaya Enterprise was an organized criminal group operating under the direction and protection of RAZHDEN SHULAYA, a/k/a “Brother,” a/k/a “Roma,” a “vor v zakone” or “vor,” which are Russian phrases translated roughly as “Thief-in-Law” or “Thief,” and which refer to an order of elite criminals from the former Soviet Union who receive tribute from other criminals, offer protection, and use their recognized status as vor to adjudicate disputes among lower-level criminals. As a vor, SHULAYA had substantial influence in the criminal underworld and offered assistance to and protection of the members and associates of the Shulaya Enterprise. Those members and associates, and SHULAYA himself, engaged in widespread criminal activities, including acts of violence, extortion, the operation of illegal gambling businesses, fraud on various casinos, identity theft, credit card frauds, trafficking in large quantities of stolen goods, money laundering through a fraudulently established vodka import-export company, payment of bribes to local law enforcement officers, and the operation of a Brooklyn-based brothel.
The Shulaya Enterprise operated through groups of individuals, often with overlapping members or associates, dedicated to particular criminal tasks. While many of these crews were based in New York City, the Shulaya Enterprise had operations in various locations throughout the United States (including in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Nevada) and abroad. Most members and associates of the Shulaya Enterprise were born in the former Soviet Union and many maintained substantial ties to Georgia, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation, including regular travel to those countries, communication with associates in those countries, and the transfer of criminal proceeds to individuals in those countries.
AVTANDIL KHURTSIDZE, formerly a middleweight boxing champion, acted as SHULAYA’s chief enforcer and, as such, engaged in multiple acts of extortion and violence. KHURTSIDZE was captured on video twice assaulting others in service of the Shulaya Enterprise, participated in recorded acts of extortion of gambling debts, and planned additional acts of violence with SHULAYA targeting associates of the Shulaya Enterprise whom KHURTSIDZE and SHULAYA perceived as having disrespected SHULAYA’s status as a vor.
SHULAYA and KHURTSIDZE jointly participated in a scheme to defraud casinos by targeting particular models of electronic slot machines using a complicated algorithm designed to predict the behavior of those machines. SHULAYA obtained the technology used to commit that fraud through violence, including through the 2014 kidnapping of a software engineer in Las Vegas. SHULAYA and KHURTSIDZE then refined that technology by training lower-level members of the Shulaya Enterprise to execute this casino scam using smartphones and software developed by the Enterprise.
SHULAYA was found guilty of one count of racketeering conspiracy, which carries a potential maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, one count of conspiring to traffic in stolen goods such as luxury watches, which carries a potential maximum penalty of five years in prison, one count of conspiracy to traffic in contraband tobacco, which carries a potential maximum penalty of five years in prison, one count of identification document fraud, which carries a potential maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, and one count of wire fraud conspiracy, which carries a potential maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. KHURTSIDZE was found guilty of one count of racketeering conspiracy and one count of wire fraud conspiracy, each of which carries a potential maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. The statutory maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of SHULAYA and KHURTSIDZE will be determined by the judge.
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Mr. Berman praised the outstanding work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its Eurasian Organized Crime Squad, as well as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the New York City Police Department for their investigative efforts and ongoing support and assistance with the case.
The prosecution of this case is being overseen by the Office’s Violent and Organized Crime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Andrew C. Adams, Andrew Thomas, and Andrew Chan are in charge of the case.