World champion boxer Avtandil Khurtsidze and professional mixed martial arts fighter Levan Makashvili were among 33 members and associates of a Russian crime syndicate detained in New York on 7 June for allegedly engaging in a panoply of crimes around the country.
Both Khurtsidze and Makashvili are charged with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisation (RICO) Act and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Both charges carry up to 20 years in prison and either a fine of $250,000 or twice the money gained or lost as a result of their crimes.
Makashvili has been accused of plotting to ‘defraud casinos through the use of electronic devices and software, designed to predict the behaviour of particular models of electronic slot machines, thereby removing the element of chance from play of those machines’.
Makashvili's lawyer Levan Natroshvili said that his client was ‘arrested by mistake’ and claims ‘he is absolutely innocent’.
Khurtsidze called the indictment ‘a very serious misunderstanding’ on his Facebook profile on 8 June, and urged his fans ‘not to panic’. Khurtsidze was due to defend his WBO middleweight title in a fight with Billy Joe Saunders, but this was cancelled after his arrest.
The majority of the detainees, allegedly members and associates of a Russian criminal syndicate, reside in Brooklyn, New York.
In a statement, acting Manhattan US Attorney Joon H Kim said that the ‘dizzying array of criminal schemes’, committed by this organised crime syndicate, allegedly include a murder-for-hire conspiracy, a plot to rob victims by seducing and drugging them with chloroform, the theft of cargo shipments containing over 10,000 pounds of chocolate, and fraud against casino slot machines using electronic hacking devices.
According to the US Department of Justice, the organised criminal group, ‘the Shulaia Enterprise’, was operating under the direction and protection of Razhden Shulaia, aka ‘Brother’, ‘Roma’, a Russian ‘thief-in-law’.
‘Those members and associates, and Shulaia 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’, an official US statement said.