July 8th was supposed to feature a WBO middleweight title fight between England’s Billy Joe Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs) and power-puncher Avtandil Khurtsidze (33-2-2, 22 KOs), but the fight is now postponed. In a remarkable turn of events, Khurtsidze has been arrested in connection with a New York-based Russian crime syndicate known as The Shulaya Enterprise. He’s been charged with conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), as well as conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Each count carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, 3 years supervised release, and a fine of $250,000.
In a statement released on his official Facebook page, Khurtsidze (translated from Georgian to English) said that this was all a “very serious misunderstanding” and that he hoped everything would be cleared up and he’d continue to prepare for his fight with Saunders. Promoter Frank Warren already confirmed that the bout was off, but that the event would continue as scheduled. The WBO title is currently the only major middleweight title not in possession of Gennady Golovkin.
The US Department of Justice published an official press release on Thursday, highlighting the workings of The Shulaya Enterprise and their alleged nationwide criminal schemes.
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 zakonei” 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, and trafficking of large quantities of stolen goods.
The Shulaya Enterprise comprised 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, the 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.
Unsealed documents also reveal that former UFC fighter Levan Makashvili was also charged with racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud “in connection with their plot to defraud casinos through the use of electronic devices and software designed to predict the behavior of particular models of electronic ‘slot’ machines, thereby removing the element of chance from play of those machines.”
Makashvili (14-2-1) fought three times in the UFC, winning by split decision in his debut against Mark Eddiva, losing by split decision against Hacran Dias, and then fighting to a majority draw versus Damon Jackson. After the UFC let him go in early 2016, Makashvili notched a couple of wins under the CES MMA banner in Rhode Island, and most recently defeated Jack McGann at Fight Nights Global 62 in March. Makashvili is also from Georgia but fights out of Oceanside on Long Island, New York. Georgian media confirmed his arrest, with the article providing a statement from unidentified athletes who said the arrests of Khurtsidze and Makashvili was caused by a “misunderstanding.”
According to the indictment, The Shulaya Enterprise has an absolute laundry list of major offenses, with narcotics conspiracy carrying the heaviest maximum punishment of 40 years:
— The operation of illicit poker businesses in Brighton Beach;
— The extortion of gamblers who became indebted to the Shulaya Enterprise;
— Attempts to extort local business owners;
— Efforts to defraud casinos in Atlantic City and Philadelphia by using electronic devices and computer servers to predict and exploit the behavior of electronic slot machines;
— The theft of cargo shipments, including a shipment containing approximately 10,000 pounds of chocolate confections;
— The use of a female member of the Shulaya Enterprise to seduce men, incapacitate them with gas, and then rob them;
— Attempts to create an after-hours nightclub that would host, among other things, the sale of narcotics;
— The transportation and sale of numerous cases of untaxed cigarettes;
— Plans to pay bribes to local law enforcement; and
— Creation and use of forged identification documents, checks, and invoices.
You can read the full report here. As always, the defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Bloody Elbow will keep you up to date on this incredible story.