Suspect in Human Trafficking

Jan 31, 2011 — 00:00

Suspect in Human Trafficking

Jan 31, 2011 — 00:00

NEW YORK — A U.S. citizen who used a fake Russian passport while living in Ukraine has agreed to go to Michigan to face charges he was a member of a violent ring that lured Eastern European women to the United States and forced them to become strippers.

Veniamin Gonikman consented to the transfer from New York during a brief appearance in federal court in Brooklyn.

The jailed Gonikman, 55, has "agreed to go to Michigan as quickly as possible so he can defend himself against the charges there," Jan Rostal, a public defender who represented him at the hearing, said outside court.

It could be several days before U.S. marshals make the transfer, the lawyer said. Prosecutors in New York declined comment.

Court papers filed in Brooklyn on Friday allege Gonikman, who's a U.S. citizen, was using a fake Russian passport while living in Ukraine. Officials there arrested him on Wednesday on immigration violations and ordered his deportation.

The officials notified the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which had agents board a U.S.-bound commercial flight in Kiev carrying Gonikman, the papers say. The agents took him into custody once the plane landed Thursday night at Kennedy Airport.

The Associated Press reported on the case involving Gonikman last year in a lengthy investigation of the exploitation of a U.S. cultural exchange program that provides foreign college students temporary visas to live and work in the United States.

One of Gonikman's alleged victims, using the alias Katya, told AP that she was a 19-year-old sports medicine student and waitress in Kiev in 2004 when her boss, who she said was Gonikman, told her about the visa program. She asked the AP not to use her real name because she feared for her life.

Katya said she thought she was going to Virginia Beach, Virginia, to waitress. But when the plane landed in Washington, Gonikman's son met her and other women at the airport and put them on a bus to Detroit.

There, he took the women to an apartment, confiscated their passports and told them they owed thousands of dollars for the travel arrangements and that they had to pay it off by becoming exotic dancers.

"I said, 'That's not what I signed here for. That's not right.' He said, 'Well, you owe me the money. I don't care how I get it from you. If I have to sell you, I'll sell you.'"

The women were told that if they refused, their families in Ukraine would be killed, Katya said.

Over the next several months, the women's handlers beat and sexually assaulted them, threatened them with guns and forced them to work 12 hours a day, six days a week at Cheetah's strip club, according to court records.

Authorities say the victims were forced to turn over all their earnings — more than $1 million in all. Some of them finally escaped with the help of a club customer and notified authorities.

Gonikman — listed as one of Homeland Security's top 10 fugitives — faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of human trafficking, money laundering, extortion and other charges.

Several other defendants, including Gonikman's son, have been convicted in the scheme, officials said. Some are serving sentences ranging from seven to 14 years.


La Clemenza di Tito

Premiere of Mozart’s final opera at the Pokrovsky Chamber Musical Theater

Thu. Mar. 23 Sun. Apr. 23

Mozart’s Italian opera. Sesto is planning to assassinate the Roman Emperor Tito at the urging of his friend Vitellia, whose love the ruler has rebuffed. When Tito, who in fact wants to marry Sesto’s sister Servilia, intimates that he will offer Vitellia his hand and his throne, the murderous plot cannot be stopped. Surviving the assassination attempt, the Emperor has to decide whether to obey the law and have the traitors killed or whether to show clemency. Read more

Between Russia and Japan: Life on the Kuril Islands

The Moscow Times takes a look at life on the disputed island chain known to Russians as the Southern Kurils, but referred to in Japan ...

see more

Why Russia's Opposition Now Takes Pride in 'Brilliant Green' Attacks

The battle against Russia’s political opposition is being waged with a bright green liquid that comes in a tiny glass bottle.

Moscow: News and Openings

From a glamorous karaoke to a cheap coffeeshop at a ...

Why Russia's Opposition Now Takes Pride in 'Brilliant Green' Attacks

The battle against Russia’s political opposition is being waged with a bright green liquid that comes in a ...