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Russian Mafia boss Razhden Shulaya ran nationwide criminal enterprise from Brighton Beach to Las Vegas

By David Amoruso

Razhden Shulaya’s influence reached far. As a bona fide “Vor” – the Russian Mafia’s equivalent of a made guy – he was feared and revered by his underlings and had powerful connections in the Eastern European underworld. But Shulaya cast his sights on the United States, where he allegedly set up a nationwide criminal enterprise involved in gambling, extortion, fraud, murder-for-hire, and drug trafficking.

He is nicknamed “Brother,” authorities say. An affectionate moniker for a man whose job encompassed taking care of his men like a big brother. As a high-ranking member of the “vory v zakone,” or thieves-in-law,” brotherhood, Shulaya offered his underlings “assistance and protection” as they went about their criminal activities. When needed he would handle disputes and offer solutions. In return, they paid him a percentage of their earnings.

40-year-old Shulaya was assisted by his 37-year-old lieutenant Zurab Dzhanashvili, who coordinated illegal gambling, extortion, and the trafficking in contraband cigarettes and stolen merchandise.  

Which such a largescale criminal enterprise he could use the help. The Shulaya organization was involved in a large variety of illicit activities, which included: running illegal poker businesses in Brighton Beach; extortion; drug trafficking; theft of cargo shipments, including a shipment containing approximately 10,000 pounds of chocolate confections; transportation and sale of numerous cases of untaxed cigarettes; the creation and use of forged identification documents, checks, and invoices; and the use of a female to seduce men, incapacitate them with gas, and then rob them.

Their brains never stopped thinking up new rackets. As money was pouring in from one shady venture, someone was already dreaming up making even more money on another illegal scheme. The group planned to defraud casinos in Atlantic City and Philadelphia by using electronic devices and computer servers to predict and exploit the behavior of electronic slot machines.

Violence, of course, was a preferred tool to advance and protect the organization and its interests. Even if it resulted in death. In May and June of this year, 26-year-old Nikoloz Jikia and 25-year-old Bakai Marat-Uulu agreed and planned to murder a person in possession of over $1,5 million dollars’ worth of stolen merchandise, in exchange for a piece of the loot.

The Shulaya organization was comprised of several crews, often with overlapping members or associates, dedicated to specific criminal tasks. While many of these crews were based in New York City, the Shulaya organization had operations in various locations throughout the United States, including in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Nevada, and abroad. 

Most of the group’s members and associates were born in the former Soviet Union and many maintained substantial ties to Georgia, Ukraine, and the Russian Federation, regularly traveling to those countries and frequently communicating with associates there. They also transferred their ill-gotten monies to individuals in those countries.

As they went about their business they used encrypted communications equipment, they talked in code and preferred to meet in person. Typical tradecraft to avoid the prying eyes of law enforcement.

Unfortunately for them, it did not work. On June 7, 2017, Razhden Shulaya and 32 of his underlings were hit with three indictments and one complaint charging them with a variety of racketeering charges that, if the defendants are found guilty, could result in lengthy prison sentences.

“The suspects in this case cast a wide net of criminal activity, aiming to make as much money as possible, all allegedly organized and run by a man who promised to protect them,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said. “But that protection didn't include escaping justice and being arrested by the agents and detectives on the FBI New York Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force. Our partnerships with other FBI field offices, the NYPD and CBP allows us to do everything we can to go after criminals who don't believe the law applies to them.”

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