Interim WBO Champion Avtandil Khurtsidze Arrested On Conspiracy Charges, Fight With Billy Joe Saunders Postponed

Interim WBO middleweight champion Avtandil Khurtsidze has been arrested on conspiracy charges, with his fight against Billy Joe Saunders being postponed.

Khurtsidze was arrested and indicted on June 7 in New York as part of a federal government roundup of 33 people accused of involvement in a New York-based Russian and Georgian crime syndicate. He is accused of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If found guilty, each felony charge carries up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

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Khurtsidze was one of 33 defendants named in the indictment unsealed by the Department of Justice in Manhattan federal court. According to the documents, the syndicate allegedly were involved in the following:

  • The operation of illicit poker businesses in Brighton Beach;
  • The extortion of gamblers who became indebted to the Shulaya Enterprise;
  • Attempts to extort local business owners;
  • Efforts 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;
  • The theft of cargo shipments, including a shipment containing approximately 10,000 pounds of chocolate confections;
  • The use of a female member of the Shulaya Enterprise to seduce men, incapacitate them with gas, and then rob them;
  • Attempts to create an after-hours nightclub that would host, among other things, the sale of narcotics;
  • The transportation and sale of numerous cases of untaxed cigarettes;
  • Plans to pay bribes to local law enforcement; and
  • Creation and use of forged identification documents, checks, and invoices.

Promoter Frank Warren, who manages Saunders, said the rest of the card will go on as planned. Other fights on the card include Darryll Williams vs. Jahmaine Smyle; Asinia Byfield vs. Sam McNess; Gary Corcroan vs. Larry Ekundayo. Warren said that Khurtsidze's promoter Lou DiBella confirmed that Khurtsidze would be unable to travel and that the fight was then called off for the moment.

"We are currently planning to postpone the fight to a later date," Warren said. "However, due to the obvious seriousness of this matter, Queensberry Promotions are given no choice but to wait for more details to emerge before anything can be confirmed."

Alex Dombroff, DiBella's attorney, told ESPN that everybody involved with the fight was shocked to hear about this transgression and offered to help Warren and Saunders find an opponent in time for his July 8 defense.

"We were as blindsided by this news as everyone else," Alex Dombroff, DiBella's attorney, told ESPN. "At this point we're still gathering information regarding the extent and nature of the indictment, but I think it is telling that Khurtsidze's name was not mentioned in the body of the Department of Justice's press release. We have offered to work with Frank Warren to ensure Billy Joe Saunders still has a title defense on July 8, be it against Khurtsidze or another opponent."

Saunders has only fought once since winning the WBO belt in December 2015, a unanimous decision win over Artur Akavov late last year. The fight with Khurtsidze was made official last month.

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