Veniamin Gonikman, 56, a naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Ukraine, was sentenced today in federal court for his role in an international conspiracy to compel Eastern European women to work in exotic dance clubs in the Detroit metropolitan area. U.S. District Court Judge Victoria A. Roberts sentenced Gonikman to 36 months in prison followed by 3 years of supervised release. He is the ninth and final member of the charged conspiracy to be sentenced.
Gonikman became a fugitive in 2005 following the arrests of his co-conspirators, Aleksandr Maksimenko and Michael Aronov. He was apprehended in Ukraine in January 2011 and pleaded guilty to money laundering on Sept. 13, 2011. According to information presented in court filings, between September 2001 and February 2005, Gonikman, together with Maksimenko and Aronov, operated Beauty Search Inc., a business that brokered and managed Eastern European women who performed in exotic dance clubs in the Detroit area. The three men recruited a number of these women in Ukraine, facilitated their illegal entry into the United States, and then harbored them for commercial advantage and private financial gain. Gonikman obtained a share of the proceeds earned by the women and transferred the money to Ukraine in order to promote and carry on the Beauty Search business.
“Human trafficking is the equivalent of modern day slavery. It deprives the victims of their freedom and dignity and it has no place in our country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department is committed to the aggressive prosecution of those who rob individuals of their freedom.”
“This sentence brings the final member of this human trafficking ring to justice,” Barbara McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. “These defendants treated human beings like a commodity, enticing Eastern European women to come to the United States illegally and then exploiting them for commercial advantage.”
"The defendants in this case preyed on young and vulnerable women from a foreign country. These women were brought to America with promises of education and travel, and instead forced to work in seedy strip clubs,” said Brian M. Moskowitz, Special Agent in Charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations ( ICE-HSI) in Detroit. "After more than seven years of unyielding resolve on the part of our special agents and prosecutors, we are able to formally end this horrific chapter in the lives of the victims and allow them to now move on knowing that justice has prevailed."
“Justice has been served knowing that Gonikman, Maksimenko and Aronov are behind bars for their reprehensible behaviors,” said Erick Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation. “These individuals took advantage of someone’s daughter, sister or granddaughter. The joint work and dedication of the law enforcement community shows that these crimes will not be tolerated.”
“This sentencing comes as the result of the hard work of the FBI and law enforcement partner agencies as well as federal prosecutors,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Andrew G. Arena. “It sends the message that anyone who seeks to profit from human trafficking will be pursued and prosecuted vigorously. These despicable acts designed to enslave women have no place in our society.”
The lead defendants in this case, Maksimenko and Aronov, pleaded guilty in 2006 to forced labor, immigration, and money laundering charges. Maksimenko was sentenced to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay $1,570,450 in restitution to the victims. Aronov was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison and ordered to pay $1 million in restitution.
Six other defendants were also convicted in 2006 for their respective roles in the conspiracy, including: Duay Jado, a Greek national, who was sentenced to four years in prison for setting a victim’s car on fire to retaliate for her escape and to intimidate the other victims; two Ukrainian nationals, Eygeniy Propenko and Alexander Bondarenko, who were convicted of visa fraud to facilitate victims’ illegal entry into the United States; and Anna Gonikman-Starchenko, a Ukrainian national formerly married to Gonikman, Niki Papoutsaki, a Greek national formerly married to Aleksandr Maksimenko, and Valentina Maksimenko, a naturalized U.S. citizen also formerly married to Veniamin Gonikman, all three of whom pleaded guilty to obstruction-related charges.
The case was investigated by ICE, the FBI, the IRS and the State Department. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow and Trial Attorney Benjamin J. Hawk of the Civil Rights Division’s Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Ziedas is handling the asset forfeiture part of the case.