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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 19, 2018

“Thief-In-Law” Razhden Shulaya Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court To 45 Years In Prison

Vor v Zakone Committed Kidnappings, Assaults, Frauds, Money Laundering, and Extortions Through Coast-to-Coast Criminal Enterprise

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,” was sentenced today to 45 years in prison by United States District Judge Loretta A. Preska.  The sentence followed the June 2018 trial conviction of SHULAYA and Avtandil Khurtsidze, a boxing world champion and Shulaya’s violent enforcer, on racketeering and related charges in connection with a sprawling and violent criminal enterprise operating in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and abroad.  Khurtsidze was sentenced on September 7, 2018, to 10 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest.           

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said:  “Razhden Shulaya led a vast and violent criminal enterprise engaged in an array of criminal schemes that included extortion, theft, trafficking in stolen goods, and fraud.  Shulaya, a ‘thief-in-law,’ is a convicted thief under U.S. law, and has deservedly been sentenced to a lengthy prison term.”

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 and/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.

SHULAYA oversaw and personally committed multiple acts of brutal violence in his role as a vor.  Evidence at trial included testimony regarding SHULAYA’s pistol-whipping of his own family member; testimony regarding SHULAYA’s public beating of a supposedly disrespectful underling; and photographs of the badly disfigured face of SHULAYA’s former lieutenant, co-defendant Mamuka Chaganava.  SHULAYA, protected by Khurtsidze, acted with impunity in the brutal assault of Chagaanva, a man whom he previously had held in high regard, and SHULAYA took pride in the brutality of that assault:  SHULAYA photographed Chaganava’s battered face in order to share his “handiwork” with another vor. In later explaining that he was unafraid of any retribution or reports to law enforcement by Chaganava, SHULAYA explained the perceived power of his position:  “For him, I am a god.”

   SHULAYA accomplished additional acts of violence and extortion through Khurtsidze, formerly a middleweight boxing champion, who acted as SHULAYA’s chief enforcer.  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 also orchestrated 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 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.

Following a two-week trial before Judge Forrest, SHULAYA was found guilty of one count of racketeering conspiracy, one count of conspiring to traffic in stolen goods such as luxury watches, one count of conspiracy to traffic in contraband tobacco, one count of identification document fraud, and one count of wire fraud conspiracy.  

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In addition to the prison term, SHULAYA, 41, of Saint Petersburg, Russia, was sentenced to three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $2,169,270 in forfeiture and restitution in the amount of $550,000.

Mr. Berman praised the outstanding work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and its Eurasian Organized Crime Squad, as well as 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 and Andrew Thomas are in charge of the case.

Topic(s): 
Violent Crime
Press Release Number: 
18-453
Updated December 19, 2018