Former champion boxer Avtandil Khurtsidze is expected to be released from prison next week. He was imprisoned in 2017 for a decade on casino fraud and racketeering charges.
Khurtsidze held the IBO title in 2011 and the WBO interim title in 2017. That year, he was lined up for a shot at the real WBO title against the world champion Billy Joe Saunders.
But the fight never took place. Instead, Khurtsidze was arrested by federal agents at JFK shortly after disembarking from a flight from his home country of Georgia.
During his trial, the court heard the boxer, known as “Mini-Mike Tyson,” had been moonlighting as chief enforcer for the Shulaya Enterprise, a Russian Mafia outfit based out of Brooklyn.
On the same day, the FBI detained 32 other reputed Russian mobsters in coordinated raids across the country. Among them was Razhden Shulaya, the boss of the syndicate, whom prosecutors described as a vor v zakone. The term means “thief-in-law,” and describes an elite order of Russian criminals who receive tribute from other criminals.
Robbing Slots and Chocs
Among a “dizzying array” of criminal activities carried out by the gang, prosecutors said both Shulaya and Khurtsidze participated in a scheme to defraud casinos in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
According to court filings, they used “electronic devices and software” to predict the behavior of certain slot machine models. The Shulaya Enterprise obtained the secret algorithms to pull off the scam by kidnapping and threatening a software engineer in Las Vegas in 2014.
Shulaya and Khurtsidze “refined the technology by training lower-level members of the group to execute this casino scam using smartphones and software developed by the Enterprise,” prosecutors said.
Additionally, the syndicate operated illegal gambling, cigarette trafficking, bribery, extortion, and credit card fraud. More unusually, it was also implicated in the theft of a cargo shipment of five tons of chocolate.
Video evidence at the trial showed Khurtsidze threatening and attacking people on Shulaya’s behalf. Even so, the sentence he received was considered harsh for the charges he was convicted of — racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Ten years was more than twice the federal sentencing guidelines.
His lawyers pointed to the fact that he was the only member of the 33 Shulaya Enterprise members and associates arrested to receive a sentence above these guidelines, except for Shulaya himself, who was jailed for 45 years.
In April, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Khurtsidze’s convictions but vacated the original sentence.
The panel of judges took exception to the trial judge’s statement that a stiff sentence might “send a message to the Georgian community.” The panel ruled the defendant’s country of origin should not have been a factor in the judge’s decision-making.
Some outlets have reported Khurtsidze intends to resume his boxing career when he gets out. But it’s unlikely he will be permitted to remain in the US, where he was living up until his arrest.
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