USA v. thieves in law. FBI informers put Razhden Shulaya to jail 

USA v. thieves in law. FBI informers put Razhden Shulaya to jail
Charges under RICO Act equated the ‘crowned thief ’from St. Petersburg with bosses of Italian Mafia and Yakuza Photo: The CrimeRussia

The large-scale international campaign against ‘thieves-in-law’ waged in Russia and the E.U. has expanded over the ocean. For the first time, the U.S. justice system examines charges laid against more than 30 members of an organized criminal group with a particular focus on the criminal status of their leader.

The CrimeRussia has reviewed indictments published by the Southern District Court of New York and concluded that “U.S.A. v. Shulaya Enterprise” case is the ‘American response’ to the recent actions of the European colleagues ‘cleansing’ their countries from criminal ‘authorities’ and ‘crowned thieves’ from CIS countries.

Another ‘exodus’ of ‘thieves-in-law’ from Russia is ongoing. The high-profile arrests of 2016-17 (‘Shakro Molodoy’, ‘Pichuga’) sent a clear message from the domestic law enforcement structures to the criminal world: forget about comfortable life in Russia. According to Andrei Gusenko, Deputy Head of the Administration for Combating Organized Crime of the General Administration of Criminal Investigation of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) of the Russian Federation, 47 ‘crowned thieves’ have been detained in Russia in 2016 alone. 26 of them have been prosecuted, 10 deported from the country, and decisions have been made with regards to the remaining 11 that their presence in the Russian Federation is undesirable. The Western countries where ‘crowned thieves’ started settling several years ago do not welcome them as well.

Weapons, drugs, and chocolate 

In early June, in the course of a joint operation of the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Police Departments of New York and several other cities, a numerous criminal group consisting of natives of the former Soviet countries has been busted in the U.S. ‎William Sweeney, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office; Leon Hayward, Acting Director, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Field Operations New York; and James P. O'Neill, Police Commissioner of New York, have reported about the operation emphasizing the excellent work of their agencies.

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They advised that charges have been laid against 33 persons suspected of membership in Shulaya Enterprise criminal group. 27 suspects have been detained, while five put on the wanted list. The criminal group had operated in several states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Nevada. According to the indictment, 40-year-old ‘thief-in-law’ Razhden Shulaya also known in the criminal world as ‘Razhden Pitersky’, ‘Roma’, and ‘Brat’ (Brother) was the gang leader. 

According to Joon Kim, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the group under the leadership of Razhden Shulaya was involved into a number of sophisticated criminal schemes, including trafficking contraband tobacco, fraud with bank cards (skimming), thefts of cargo, racketeering, drug and arms dealing, and murder for hire conspiracy.

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The broad range of Shulaya Enterprise operations can be illustrated by the following episodes: theft of 4.5 tons of chocolate and other confectionery later illegally sold by gang members, 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 night club to deal drugs.

Infiltrator CS-1 and non-existent murder 

The gravest charge laid against Shulaya Enterprise members is murder for hire conspiracy incriminated to 25-year old Bakai Marat Uulu and Nikoloz Jikia. 

It is necessary to note that, according to the indictment, the initiator of the conspiracy was a FBI informer codenamed CS-1 (confidential source 1) in the documents. In total, three informers were involved into the operation against the criminal syndicate under the leadership of Shulaya, but CS-1 was the most efficient. 

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office (USAO), CS-1 is a mysterious figure, pretty influential in the criminal world in the past – the gang members had completely trusted him. The indictment against Nikoloz Jikia and Bakai Marat Uulu states CS-1 is a former ‘authority’ of the ‘Russian mafia’ who had served a 6-year prison term in the U.S. for an attempted contract killing and agreed to work for the FBI. He had met the killers-to-be in 2015: Marat Uulu and Jikia sold him a Ruger Service Six .38 caliber revolver – although they were aware of his criminal record prohibiting CS-1 from owning firearms. In May 2017, CS-1 had allegedly needed another gun and Jikia and Marat Uulu promptly offered him a Hi-Point Firearms 45 ACP pistol for a reasonable price of $500 and promised, if necessary, to get a semiautomatic weapon. In addition, they offered the FBI informer heroin in bulk amounts starting from 1 kg. 

One word led to another, and CS-1 offered the two acquaintances to participate in a criminal plot – 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 adventurous Jikia suggested to get rid of the corpse by dissolving it in acid. But shortly after receiving the advance payments ($1 thousand to each), the malefactor have been arrested. Now they are facing severe sentences, including imprisonment for life. It is necessary to note that CS-1 had played the key role in the evidence collection in episodes pertaining to the smuggling of cigarettes and sales of stolen goods. His colleagues CS-2 and CS-3 had also contributed to the operation. One of them was actively involved into the episodes pertaining to an underground poker club and drug dealing, while the other one has played the key rule in the illegal sale of the 4.5 tons of stolen chocolate.

Georgian trace

The case against Shulaya Enterprise hit the headlines not only in the U.S. and Russia, but in Georgia as well. The point is that the core of the “criminal syndicate of Russian mafia” (this is how the official documents refer to the gang led by Shulaya) was ethnically not Russian. In addition to two Russians, the gang included Jews, Ukrainians, a Kyrgyz, and an Armenian. But the majority of mobsters arrested in the course of the police operation – 15 people – were Georgian citizens or natives.

Levan Makashvili

Levan Makashvili

Two Georgian sports stars were among the detainees: IBO middleweight champion Avtandil Khurtsidze (‘Chakucha’, ‘Tornado’) and perspective MMA fighter Levan Makashvili – a contender to the UFC featherweight title.

In addition, the police have detained ‘right hand’ of Shulaya Zurab ‘Zura’ Dzhanashvili, Mikheil Toradze, Nazo ‘Anna’ Gaprindashvili, Artur ‘Rizhy’ Vinokurov, Evgheni Melman, Zurab Buziashvili, Azer Arslanouk, Ivan ‘Vanya’ Afanasyev, Diego Gabisonia, Vache Hovhannisyan, Andriy Petrushin, Bakai Marat Uulu, Avtandil Kanadashvili, Denys Davydov, Yuriy Lerner, Alex ‘Globus’ Mitselmakher, Akaki ‘Ako’ Ubilava, Hamlet Uglava, Alex Fishman, Steven Fishman, Konstantin Melnik, Nikoloz Jikia, and Sergey Gindinov. Semyon ‘Sammy’ Saraidarov, Irakli Kereselidze, Mamuka Chaganava, Giorgi Lomishvili, and Denis Savgir are on the lose yet. One more suspect, Timur Suyunov, is currently serving time in an American prison for a different crime.

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Avtandil Khurtsidze

Levan Makashvili has been released a week later, while Khurtsidze was remanded in custody for two months – the court declined to release him on bail because it has hard evidence of the boxer’s guilt. According to Seattle Times, the case file includes a video record of Avtandil Khurtsidze beating an FBI informant (the indictment states that it was CS-2). Khurtsidze claims that this had happened “by mistake”, but his fight in London for WBO International middleweight title with British boxer Billy Joe Saunders scheduled to July 8 has been postponed for an indefinite period. The Georgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has instructed its Consulate General in the U.S. to provide assistance to the Georgian citizens, but there are no results so far. 

‘Thieves’ law’

According to American law enforcement authorities, the operation against Shulaya Enterprise was one of the most large-scale operations in the history of the East-European organized crime in the U.S.A. The arrests have been performed in New York, Atlantic City, Miami, and Philadelphia. Shulaya, who lives permanently in Edgewater, New Jersey, was arrested in Las Vegas on the morning of June 7. After a brief session of the city court that had laid charges on 7 counts against the suspect, Razhden Shulaya has been escorted to New York where the criminal case against him is investigated.

Indictment – U.S.A. v. Shulaya Enterprise

Indictment – U.S.A. v. Gindinov

Indictment – U.S.A. v. Jikia and Marat Uulu

The detained suspect had communicated with the judge through an interpreter: “I understand what charges have been laid against me but I don’t understand why”.

The 33-page indictment against Shulaya Enterprise provides an answer to this, seemingly rhetorical, question – as well as four more criminal cases against ‘Razhden Pitersky’. All the documents produced in the U.S. Attorney's Office describe in detail the ‘thievish’ status of Razhden Shulaya and emphasize his leading rule in the criminal hierarchy. The main charge against him and most members of the organized criminal group under his leadership is based on the RICO Act. It is necessary to note that many leaders of the American and international organized crime were sentenced to large prison terms under similar charges, including representatives of the Five Families – principal mafia clans of New York: Bonanno, Genovese, Colombo, Gambino, and Lucchese.

Our
notes

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act is a paramount U.S. law targeting the organized crime and imposing severe criminal liability for investing monies obtained through racket. The Act was approved in October 1970, it was developed to prosecute not individuals, but organizations – both legal entities (including private, public, and governmental ones) and groups of people linked by joint activities. The penalties stipulated in the RICO Act are considerably more severe than those imposed for specific crimes – this provides the U.S. Attorney's Office with a powerful tool motivating the defendants to collaborate with the investigation in exchange for prosecution under ‘lighter’ articles.

Shulaya is not the first Russian ‘crowned thief’ prosecuted under the RICO Act. The ‘high caste’ of the Russian criminal elite has been of special concern for the American law enforcement system since the 1990s – at that time, Vyacheslav ‘Yaponchik’ Ivankov was the leader of the ‘Russian mafia’ in the U.S.A. In 2010, Armen ‘Pzo’ Kazaryan became the first ‘thief-in-law’ charged under the RICO Act. Contrary to the ‘thieves’ code’ he made a plea deal and was sentenced to 37 months behind bars, fine of $60 thousand, and confiscation of all assets, including a home in California. A year later, Barack Obama has signed an order imposing sanctions on four foreign criminal groups: Italian Camorra, Japanese Yakuza, Mexican Los Zetas, and Brothers' Circle consisting of criminals from the former Soviet countries. The following ‘thieves-in-law’ and businesses affiliated with them have been affected by these sanctions: Kamchybek ‘Kolya Kyrgyz’ Kol’baev, Vladislav ‘Vadik Bely’ Leontiev, Vasily ‘Vasya Voskres’ Khristoforov, and four other businessmen with criminal ties. Therefore, by the time of settlement of Razhden Shulaya in Edgewater, the FBI and Police were aware very well about the ‘crowned thieves’.

‘Thief’ with higher education

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According to the New York County District Attorney's Office, the inquest against the organized criminal group under the leadership of Razhden Shulaya has started back in 2014 – a year after his arrival to the U.S.A. After fleeing Russia, Shulaya had lived in Europe for some time. But in that period, the E.U. Police and Interpol have started a mass ‘cleansing’ operation against ‘thieves-in-law’, including Georgian ones. In 2013–2016, the following criminals were sentenced to large prison terms in Spain, Greece, and France: Zviad ‘Zviad’ Darsadze, Dato ‘Cherepakha’ Kharebava, Kakhaber ‘Kakha Rustavsky’ Shushanashvili, David ‘Dato Kutaissky’ Sebiskveradze, and Merab ‘Merab Sukhumsky’ Dzhangveladze; his henchmen Besik ‘Beso’ Kuprashvili and Guram ‘Buyia’ Odisharia have got lesser sentences – 4 to 5 years behind bars. In 2013, ‘Razhden Pitersky’ was arrested in Lithuania together with Temur ‘Tsripa’ Nemtsisveridze. ‘Tsripa’ has been sentenced to 4 years and 8 months behind bars, while ‘Roma Pitersky’ was released soon and relocated to the U.S.A.

‘Razhden Pitersky’ is not an old-school ‘thief-in-law’. He was crowned in Cyprus only a year prior to the arrival to America. The following ‘thieves-in-law’ had voted to crown ‘Brat’: Temur ‘Tsripa’ Nemtsisveridze, Roin ‘Matveich’ Uglava, Georgy ‘Takhi’ Uglava, etc.

But Razhden Shulaya was already known to the criminal world as an ‘authoritative’ thief in the period when he lived in the Admiralteisky district of St. Petersburg – i.e. long before the crowning. A number of sources, including British political expert Mark Galeotti, author of several books about the Russian organized crime, name Shulaya a confidant of ‘thief-in-law’ ‘Shakro Molodoy’ and ‘overseer’ of St. Petersburg in the end of the 2000s. Well-informed sources state that Shulaya had always followed the ‘thieves’ traditions’ – he never worked and demonstrated decency in his lifestyle. This hasn’t prevented him, though, from gradating from the Financial and Economic University and running a legal business.

According to the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities, Razhden Bondoevich Shulaya is the founder of NevaTrans Limited Liability Company specializing in taxi services and still operating – although its financial results for the year of 2015 were negative. Late Bondo Razhdenovich Shulaya, father of the ‘thief-in-law’ (he died in 2008), was a businessman as well.

According the Consolidated State Register of Legal Entities, Bondo Shulaya was the founder of Box Way Limited Liability Company, Ros-Avto, St. Petersburg Steiner production center, and even a farming enterprise in the Gatchina district of the Leningrad region. No information is available about possible ties between Bondo Razhdenovich Shulaya and the criminal world – but his pompous monument following the traditions of criminal authorities’ tombs on Bolsheokhtinskoe (Georgievskoe) cemetery of St. Petersburg bears arson marks. Shulaya senior could do a bad turn to somebody or the monument could be vandalized by enemies of his son. 

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Tomb of Bondo Razhdenovich Shulaya on Georgievskoe cemetery of St. Petersburg

Similarly with any other criminal, ‘Razhden Pitersky’ could have enemies in St. Petersburg – but he also had many friends, including famous heavyweight boxer Nikolai Valuev, currently a Deputy of the State Duma. The photo showing Shulaya and Valuev had hit the headlines in 2009. According to Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper, they had common interests – allegedly Shulaya and Valuev were negotiating with representatives of Hong-Kong-based Deson company the fate of a business center on Stakhanovtsev street that had earlier been seized by raiders.

No extradition

In addition to influential acquaintances, former St. Petersburg dweller Shulaya has the Georgian citizenship. Ambebi.ge writes that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili had personally granted it to the ‘thief-in-law’ in 2010 after his visit to the ‘ancestral country’. According to Georgian-based Versia periodical, the authority of Razhden Shulaya in the republic is so high that in the last years, being in the U.S.A., he had controlled the Georgian prisons and approved their ‘overseers’. But the Georgian citizenship won’t help ‘Razhden Pitersky’ – the United States and Georgia do not have an extradition agreement. Neither has the U.S.A. an extradition agreement with Russia whose citizenship Shulaya possesses as well.

Valery Etnyukov, a MIA representative in Washington, has noted earlier that Razhden Shulaya is on the federal wanted list in Russia and on the Interpol wanted list.

According to Patrick Barnes, Assistant U.S. Attorney, the American law enforcement structures are aware that their Russian colleagues are after the ‘crowned thief’ for kidnapping for ransom. But the observable future of ‘Razhden Pitersky’ is inseparably connected with the U.S.A. – for the totality of the charges, he faces up to 65 years in jail and a fine of $1.2 million.

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