Avtandil Khurtsidze was arrested yesterday (June 7) in New York on charges of violating the federal RICO Act. Passed by Congress in 1970 as a tool for fighting organized crime, RICO is officially the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
Khurtsidze was slated to fight WBO middleweight champion Billy Joe Saunders at London’s Copper Box Arena on July 8th. That fight is now off. Here is the official statement from Queensberry Promotions head Frank Warren, the event’s promoter:
“Today, Queensberry Promotions were informed that Billy Joe Saunders’ mandatory challenger Avtandil Khurtsidze was yesterday arrested in New York indicted under the RICO Act.
As such, his contest with WBO World Middleweight Champion Billy Joe Saunders scheduled for Saturday 8th July at the Copper Box Arena, cannot take place on that date as his promoter Lou DiBella has confirmed he will be unable to travel.
We are currently planning to postpone the fight to a later date. 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.”
The five-foot-four Khurtsidze (32-2-2, 22 KOs) was developing a cult following on both sides of the Atlantic. He had trouble finding opponents after brutalizing previously undefeated Antoine Douglas in March of last year, but returned to the ring in April, taking the measure of hometown hero Tommy Langford in Leicester, England. He stopped the previously undefeated Langford in the fifth round to earn a date with Saunders (24-0, 12 KOs), who would be making the second defense of the WBO middleweight title he won from fellow Irish traveler Andy Lee.
The fight was highly anticipated because of the contrast in styles. Saunders, who would have had a seven-inch height advantage, dismissed Khurtsidze as a “puffed-up Danny DeVito” at a pre-fight press confab, but in Khurtsidze – whose style has been described as prehistoric – he would be meeting a rough customer.
Khurtsidze hails from the Republic of Georgia in the former Soviet Union. He moved to the United States in 2014, settling in Brooklyn. The Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn purportedly has the highest U.S. concentration of Russian Mafia. Khurtsidze is alleged to be affiliated with this criminal syndicate. He was one of 23 individuals arrested in the June 7 dragnet, a joint effort of the FBI, the New York Field Office of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, and the New York City Police Department.
Regarding the arrests, Joon H. Kim, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, released this formal statement:
“The dizzying array of criminal schemes committed by this organized crime syndicate allegedly include a murder-for-hire conspiracy, a plot to rob victims by seducing and drugging them with chloroform, the theft of cargo shipments containing over 10,000 pounds of chocolate, and a fraud on casino slot machines using electronic hacking devices.”
The charges against Khurtsidze are vague, consisting of RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Both crimes carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. By and large, those found guilty of violating RICO receive long sentences.
Avtandil Khurtsidze turned 38 last month. He had a short window in which to maximize his earning potential as a professional boxer. That window just got a lot shorter.
Photo credit: Amanda Westcott