“Freedom for Razhden Shulaya!” Who is striving to release thief-in-law from American jail? 

“Freedom for Razhden Shulaya!” Who is striving to release thief-in-law from American jail?
Photo: The CrimeRussia

A high-profile trial of a crowned thief in the USA is nearly over. The main defendants in this case – Razhden Shulaya and former boxing champion Avtandil Khurtsidze – have been found guilty and are waiting for sentencing in jail. However, now the court does not trust the FBI informants whose testimonies constitute the evidential base as implicitly as it used to do earlier. The CrimeRussia journalist spoke with members of the initiative group in support of Shulaya in the USA and his ex-wife residing in St. Petersburg to find out whether the thief-in-law has any chance to get liberty or a minimum prison term.

The trial of a criminal syndicate controlled by crowned thief Razhden Shulaya, also known as Razhden Pitersky, Roma, and Brat (Brother), is almost completed. The verdict pronouncement for the principal defendants in the Southern District Court of New York is scheduled to September 21, 2018. In June 2018, the jurors have unanimously found Shulaya and his enforcer, famous boxer Avtandil Khurtsidze, guilty of criminal conspiracy, extortion, robberies, sales of stolen items, and fraud. For the totality of the crimes committed, they are facing 20 to 65 years behind bars.

However, members of the initiative group in support of Razhden Shulaya involving his friends and relatives both in the USA and Europe believe that it is premature yet to make any forecasts with regards to the sentence.

Shortly after the high-profile special operation carried out in the USA and resulting in the arrest of 27 members of the criminal syndicate under the leadership of Razhden Shulaya, web sites Razhdenshulaya.com and Realtimesnews.com have been launched. Both portals proclaim the same message: the thief-in-law, who has arrived to America four years ago, is a victim of discrimination against East-European natives and tense relations between Russia and the USA.

It must be noted that some information provided on the web sites is missing in the official statements of the US Department of Justice and courtroom reports traditionally supporting the stance of the state prosecution. We have contacted the creator of these Internet portals – Tatiana S., a native of the Tyumen region residing in the USA for more than 20 years already – and found out why she considers the crowned thief, who had never tried to make a secret of his supreme criminal status, innocent or, at least, not as guilty as the FBI and US Attorney's Office claim.

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“I and many other members of the New York immigrant community know Razhden Shulaya, first of all, as a mild and sympathetic person and great father,” – says Tatiana; her daughter is a friend of the 12-year-old daughter of Razhden Shulaya living in St. Petersburg and visiting her father on holidays on a regular basis. 

"I know nothing of his unlawful affairs; perhaps, something has happened indeed, for instance, the episode with contraband cigarettes purchased by Shulaya from one FBI informant and sold to another one – but a murder for hire conspiracy and other severe crimes not proven in court? Of course, ignorance of the law is no excuse, but we see that the FBI is obviously demonizing Razhden based on his criminal status and uses for this purpose testimonies of its informants – i.e. interested parties – that often contradict the reality," – the member of the group in support of Shulaya states. 

So-called collaboration with the FBI is a popular in the USA judicial practice – a plea deal that can be made not only before the trial, but also while serving the term, or even after it. The CrimeRussia wrote earlier that, according to the indictments published by the Southern District Court of New York, the evidentiary foundation in the “U.S.A. v. Shulaya Enterprise” case is based on testimonies of FBI informants codenamed CS-1, CS-2, and CS-3 (confidential sources 1, 2, and 3).

Our
notes

A joint operation of the FBI, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Police Departments of New York and several other cities targeting a numerous criminal group consisting of natives of the former Soviet countries was carried out in June 2017. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, 33 members of ‘Russian mafia' operating under the leadership of thief-in-law Razhden Shulaya were identified in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Nevada. The following persons have been detained in addition to Shulaya and his ‘right hand' Zurab Dzhanashvili: Akaki Ubilava (Ako), Hamlet Uglava, Mikheil Toradze, Nazo Gaprindashvili (Anna), Artur Vinokurov (Rizhy), Evgheni Melman, Zurab Buziashvili, Azer Arslanouk, Ivan Afanasyev (Vanya), Diego Gabisonia, Levan Makashvili, Vache Hovhannisyan, Andriy Petrushin, Bakai Marat Uulu, Avtandil Khurtsidze, Avtandil Kanadashvili, Denys Davydov, Yuriy Lerner, Alex Mitselmakher (Globus), Alex Fishman, Steven Fishman, Konstantin Melnik, Nikoloz Jikia, and Sergey Gindinov. Five other gang members have been put on the wanted list: Mamuka Chaganava, Semyon Saraidarov (Sammy), Irakli Kereselidze, Giorgi Lomishvili, and Denis Savgir. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the gang led by Razhden Pitersky was involved into a number of crimes, including contraband tobacco trafficking, fraud with bank cards (skimming), thefts of cargo, racketeering, drug and arms dealing, and murder for hire conspiracy. Media wrote about the episode involving the theft of 4.5 tons of chocolate and other confectionery, a series of robberies involving ladies of easy virtue who were chloroforming the victims, reprogramming of gambling machines in a Philadelphia casino, and an attempt to launch a nightclub to deal drugs.

The once-sensational case against the criminal syndicate under the leadership Razhden Shulaya does not dominate the media anymore. Furthermore, the so-called ‘syndicate’ had disintegrated into individual episodes and it is impossible to prove links between them. 

By now, only two defendants continue denying their guilt: Shulaya and famous Georgian boxer Avtandil Khurtsidze, IBO middleweight champion and former WBO middleweight champion (his title fight with Billy Joe Saunders was canceled due to the arrest). The FBI considers him the head of the enforcement unit in the organized criminal group of Razhden Pitersky.

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Avtandil Khurtsidze

All the other defendants made plea deals; some of them are already at liberty, while others are waiting for the court verdict. 

Many of the suspects are actively testifying against Razhden Pitersky, including Zurab Dzhanashvili earlier nicknamed his ‘right hand’ and now collaborating with the FBI. His trial is scheduled to November 2018. No information is available about his release on bail; however, his name is not listed among the detainees in the US penitentiary database. 

Members of the group in support of Shulaya believe that Dzhanashvili is covered by the FBI witness protection program due to the nature of testimonies he is supposed to provide against Shulaya and Avtandil Khurtsidze.

Unlike Dzhanashvili, both of them are languishing in the Metropolitan Detention Center, Brooklyn and were recently put in the disciplinary cell for a brawl with Latino prison mafia – the fight they have lost due to the numerical inferiority of the attackers. According to The CrimeRussia sources, Shulaya and Khurtsidze received surface knife wounds and bruises, were admitted to the hospital for a short time, and then transferred to the punitive confinement.

According to the prosecuting attorney, the bottom line of the testimonies provided by Dzhanashvili is as follows: Razhden Pitersky is the most powerful criminal leader of the Russian-speaking community of New York.

Razhden Shulaya after the arrest

Dzhanashvili hopes to reduce his prison term by telling the court about the participation of Razhden Shulaya in an assault against some shady businessman for racketeering purposes, the abduction and confinement of a Las Vegas programmer for several hours in order to obtain software for casino fraud, and a ‘skirmish’ between 20 members of the ‘brigade’ under the command by Shulaya and members of ‘Armenian mafia’ in a pool hall near McDonald Avenue in Brooklyn. 

In addition, Dzhanashvili intends to share with the court a story heard from Shulaya – the story of his coronation and subsequent trips abroad to attend congregations. This testimony is fully consistent with the main charge laid against Shulaya and proven in court – membership in the criminal elite granting him leadership powers in the criminal world.

Thieves in law: Razhden Shulaya (Razhden Pitersky), Lasha Dogonadze (Bardzhga Pitersky), and David Dzhangidze (Dato Krasnodarsky). Turkey, 2014

To emphasize this aspect, the prosecution has presented to the court such ‘evidence’ as photos of a smartphone case with ‘thieves’ stars’ and pictures of Razhden Pitersky in a shirt with a similar pattern at his birthday party in Romanoff Restaurant (earlier Rasputin) on Coney Island having a criminal reputation associated with such notorious names as Monya Elson and Vyacheslav Ivankov (Yaponchik).

Rasputin Restaurant, 2012

Another photo presented as evidence shows a bottle of deluxe Tropport vodka allegedly imported to the USA by a Las Vegas company of the same name founded by Razhden Shulaya. According to 23-year old Evgheni Melman, author of the software used to commit fraud with gambling slot machines, Shulaya had personally explained him the significance of the symbol – eight-pointed star – shown on the bottle collar.

The programmer, who has made a plea deal, has no doubt that Tropport LLC was used solely for money laundering in the USA. The following factors indicate that this may be true: absence of this vodka in liquor catalogues and retail chains and lack of its authentic photos – only Photoshopped renders. 

The company established by Shulaya in Nevada is a part of RCCI Holding Group offshore legal entity incorporated in the Cayman Islands. However, Razhden Pitersky was not charged with money laundering because the main goal of the investigation is to lock him up for creation of a criminal community – and his thieves’ title proves this in the mind of the American justice.

Our
notes

A 41-year-old resident of St. Petersburg having a higher economic education and son of a prominent St. Petersburg businessman Bondo Shulaya was crowned in Cyprus in May 2013 by members of the clan led by Merab Zhangveladze: Roin Uglava (Matveich), Antimoz Kukhilava (Antimos), Eduard Asatryan (Osetrina Starshy (Sturgeon Meat Senior)), Georgy Uglava (Takhi), Temuri Nemtsisveridze (Tsripa Kutaissky), etc. According to British political expert Mark Galeotti specializing in the Russian organized crime, Shulaya was known in St. Petersburg as a confidant of thief-in-law Shakro Molodoy and ‘overseer’ of the city long before the bloody conflict between clans led by Ded Khasan and Oniani– Dzhangveladze. In the mid-2000s, Shulaya survived an assassination attempt and was wounded in the head. He decided to relocate to the USA after divorcing his wife and death of his father. According to ex-wife Natalia Shulaya, Razhden has inherited from his father several residential and commercial properties in St. Petersburg, and the income generated by their lease allowed him to live comfortably overseas without the need for working.

Some phrases from his wiretapped telephone conversations – broadly disseminated by the media – were presented to the court in June in the thieves’ context as well: “I put everything on the thieves’ rails in America” and “You, scumbag! Why have you come to a thief with a knife?!”. The last one was addressed to Aleksander Kutsenko, an FBI informant known as CS-2. A member of the ‘mafia brigade of Gufeld–Kutsenko’, he was sentenced to 16 years behind bars for racketeering – but then agreed to collaborate with the FBI and got liberty 4 years earlier. 

This phrase pertains to an extortion episode in the case against Shulaya and Khurtsidze; at that time Kutsenko was a manager at an underground gambling house on Brighton Beach controlled by Shulaya. A video record showing the gamblers was presented to the court – but then paused for some reason and resumed at the moment when Khurtsidze gives a slap to Kutsenko. The defense attorneys have insisted on showing the entire record to the jurors – and they saw Kutsenko provoking Shulaya and Khurtsidze by throwing a knife on the table in front of them.

Razhden Shulaya with daughter

Other episodes of the case against the criminal syndicate are based on the same scenario – a provocation encouraging to commit an unlawful act – and the FBI had never made a secret of this. In the most grievous episode – murder for hire conspiracy – former authority of ‘Russian mafia’ Vladimir Oleinik, an FBI informant known as CS-1, who has earlier served a 6-year prison term for an attempted murder for hire, purchased from Nikoloz Jikia and Bakai Marat Uulu a Ruger Service Six .38 caliber revolver and a Hi-Point Firearms 45 ACP pistol and then offered them to rob and kill his fictitious business partner and highjack several trucks with smuggled cigarettes worth $1 million from his warehouse. The firearms dealers agreed and even produced a murder plan, including allocation of functions. Marat Uulu had volunteered to make the first shot, while Jikia suggested to get rid of the corpse by dissolving it in acid. Shortly after receiving the advance payments ($1 thousand to each), the malefactors have been arrested. However, the involvement of Shulaya in this episode was never proven.

Oleinik (CS-1) had also participated in the episode involving contraband cigarettes: he sold to Razhden Pitersky the stuff belonging, according to the defense, to the FBI – and then, the thief-in-law offered it to the third FBI informant (CS-3). 

In addition to the complaint against the illegitimate actions of the FBI committed in the course of the inquest, attorneys for Razhden Shulaya have notified the court of obvious mistakes made by the investigators – for instance, information about a Mercedes-Benz that, according to the US Attorney's Office, was presented to the crowned thief as a ‘tribute’.

The CrimeRussia possesses documents indicating that Razhden Shulaya has contracted a car loan with Santander Bank to purchase this vehicle – and after the arrest of the thief-in-law, the Mercedes was seized by the lender. According to the group in support of Shulaya, his “home in Edgewater, New Jersey” broadly covered in the media was, in fact, a rented apartment, and the defense team has information on monthly payments for it.

Summons to court issued to Razhden Shulaya on July 5, 2017 for non-payment of rent

Speaking of the defense, currently the interests of Razhden Shulaya are represented in the federal court by Anthony Cecutti and Jennifer Rushing Louis-Jeune appointed by the US Attorney's Office. 

Relatives of Razhden Shulaya and his support group are fully satisfied with their performance. But this wasn’t always the case. Initially, his ex-wife, who is covering the defense costs, had hired an expensive and popular criminal defense attorney Elizabeth Macedonio. Upon receipt of the fee of $100 thousand, Macedonio has lost any interest to the defendant and stopped responding to calls and e-mails. The prepaid fee still remains outstanding.

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Defense attorney Elizabeth Macedonio

Attorney Christopher Shella was hired next. According to the relatives of Shulaya, he received $10 thousand and started fully collaborating with the FBI and accepting the stance of the prosecution on all matters. Only the current court-appointed attorneys fulfill their duties conscientiously.

The ex-wife of Razhden Shulaya, who is still residing in St. Petersburg and raising their daughter, told The CrimeRussia journalist that prior to the sentencing, Anthony Cecutti and Jennifer Rushing Louis-Jeune have visited St. Petersburg with an interpreter. For several days, the lawyers had meetings with dozens of people familiar with Razhden Shulaya – his relatives, fellow alumni, friends, and former teachers – to create a portrait of their client to be presented to the court.

It is necessary to note that St. Petersburg acquaintances of Razhden Shulaya had spoken of him solely in high terms, and the American servants of Themis have got only positive feedback. It became known that the thief-in-law had assisted many people in various ways, including financial support.

Attorney Anthony Cecutti

According to Natalia Shulaya, the professionalism and fairness of Anthony Cecutti and Jennifer Rushing Louis-Jeune inspire some optimism with regards to the pending sentence for her ex-husband. Justice Katherine Forrest has a reputation of a strict but fair judge, which also gives some hope. The sentencing of Razhden Shulaya is scheduled in less than three weeks.

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