• BREAKING NEWS Shelter in place lifted after prisoner captured

Ukraine man arrested on human trafficking charges

January 28, 2011 3:20:00 AM PST
An international fugitive wanted on charges he forced Eastern European women to become dancers at Detroit strip clubs arrived in New York on Thursday to face U.S. human trafficking charges.

Veniamin Gonikman, 55, was captured Wednesday in Ukraine, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

Gonikman was flown to John F. Kennedy International Airport for an initial court appearance in New York. ICE agents were to ultimately take him to Michigan, where he's named in a human trafficking indictment.

The name of his attorney was not immediately available.

Federal authorities say Gonikman, who's a U.S. citizen, had fled amid an investigation of a sham business he operated called Beauty Search Inc.

The 2005 indictment alleges Gonikman used the company as a front to smuggle Eastern European women to the United States. It says he and others forced the victims into stripper servitude, working 12-hour shifts at clubs around Detroit.

Authorities say the women were forced to turn over all their earnings - more than $1 million in all.

In announcing the capture, ICE officials cited dramatic testimony by one of the victims at a congressional hearing in 2007.

"I could not refuse to go to work or I would be beaten," one woman said. "I was often yelled at for not making enough money or had a gun put to my face. ... I was their slave."

The investigation began after one of the women escaped and alerted authorities.

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

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


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