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U.S. Convicts Two Ex-Soviet Criminal Gang Members On Racketeering Charges

Georgian boxer Avtandil Khurtsidze (left) in a boxing match with a French opponent in 2010

A U.S. jury has found two members of an organized criminal gang from the former Soviet Union guilty of racketeering and other charges in a verdict announced by the U.S. Justice Department on June 19.

The department said the jury unanimously found that the gang's chief, Razhden Shulaya, and his chief enforcer, Avtandil Khurtsidze, engaged in an array of violent criminal activities that included extortion, theft, trafficking in stolen goods, and fraud.

Prosecutors described Shulaya as a "vor" -- the Russian word for thief -- which they said in criminal jargon means that he belongs 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."

They said Shulaya was one of the first such alleged criminals to be charged with racketeering in the United States. They said most of his gang members were born in the former Soviet Union and maintained ties with associates in Georgia, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation even as they operated schemes in the U.S. states of New York, New Jersey, Nevada, and elsewhere.

Shulaya was found guilty on five counts, including one count of racketeering conspiracy, which carries a potential maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, prosecutors said. The other counts carry prison terms of up to five years.

Prosecutors said Khurtsidze was a former middle-weight boxing champion who acted as Shulaya's enforcer. They said he was captured on video twice assaulting people on behalf of Shulaya.

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.

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