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Press Release

Final Defendant Pleads Guilty for His Role in International Conspiracy Involving the Forced Labor of Eastern European Women in Detroit-Area Exotic Dance Clubs

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

WASHINGTON – A naturalized U.S. citizen originally from Ukraine pleaded guilty today in federal court in Detroit, Mich., for crimes related to an international conspiracy to compel Eastern European women to work in exotic dance clubs in the Detroit metropolitan area, announced the Justice Department. Veniamin Gonikman, 56, who became a fugitive in 2005, was apprehended in Ukraine in January 2011. He is the ninth and final member of the charged conspiracy to be convicted.


According to information presented in court filings, between September 2001 and February 2005, Gonikman, together with his son, Aleksandr Maksimenko, a U.S. citizen, and Michael Aronov, a Lithuanian national, 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. In 2001, Gonikman facilitated the smuggling into the United States of two young Eastern European women from Ukraine, through Mexico, into the United States, and ultimately to Detroit, where the women were compelled to serve as exotic dancers.


“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 for financial gain.” 


“ This conviction 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, then exploiting them for commercial advantage.”


“This conviction closes the door on a human trafficking organization responsible for wreaking havoc on the lives of women who came to the U.S. in pursuit of the American dream,” said Brian M. Moskowitz, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ‘s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations for Michigan and Ohio. “Unfortunately, we know there are still traffickers out there looking to exploit the most vulnerable among us. Cases like this one serve to strengthen our resolve to protect and defend those who may not be able to evade or escape the grip of this form of modern day slavery."


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 fourteen 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.


Under the terms of Gonikman’s plea agreement, he faces a maximum sentence of 51 months in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 26, 2012, before U.S. District Judge Victoria A. Roberts.


The case was investigated by ICE, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service 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. Peter Ziedas, Assistant U.S. Attorney, is handling the asset forfeiture part of the case.

Updated August 24, 2015

Press Release Number: 11-1182