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Human trafficking suspect deported to United States

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Veniamin Gonikman accused of trafficking, forced labor, alien smuggling, money laundering
  • Officials say his company that helped traffick Eastern European women in the U.S.
  • U.S. citizen was considered one of U.S. agency's top fugitives
  • He was detained in Ukraine before being deported to the United States

New York (CNN) -- A top fugitive wanted by U.S. immigration officials on charges that include human trafficking, forced labor, alien smuggling, money laundering, extortion and conspiracy was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Thursday, officials said.

Veniamin Gonikman, 55, was detained in Ukraine on Wednesday before being deported to the United States, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Ivan L. Ortiz-Delgado said in a written statement Thursday.

Gonikman is accused of forming a company with co-conspirators that facilitated the trafficking of Eastern European women in the U.S.

The statement said the company, Beauty Search Inc., was used to exploit and abuse women "by forcing them, through threats, coercion, and isolation, to work as exotic dancers for the economic benefit of the Beauty Search partners."

The women worked in strip clubs in Detroit, the statement said, where they were forced to work 12-hour days, surrendering all of their earnings to Gonikman and his associates.

He is suspected of extorting more than $1 million from the victims but fled the United States before authorities could formally charge him, it said.

Gonikman, a U.S. citizen, was considered one of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's top 10 fugitives.

Authorities first learned of his alleged exploits in 2005 when a woman who worked for him at a Detroit strip club escaped and tipped off local law enforcement.

* "I could not refuse to go to work, or I would be beaten," the woman, who was identified as "Katya," was quoted in the statement as saying. "I was often yelled at for not making enough money or had a gun put to my face."

Katya said she handed over about $3,000 to $4,000 every week. "I was their slave," she said.

Gonikman was expected to appear Thursday in U.S. District Court in New York and will be extradited to the Eastern District of Michigan to face charges, the statement said.

"This arrest is a potent example of ICE's unyielding resolve to bring human traffickers to justice," Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in the statement. "Victims in forced labor cases are particularly vulnerable targets who are lured with promises of employment and stable lives and then end up in abusive and deplorable situations."

It is not clear whether Gonikman has attained legal counsel.

His associates include his son Aleksandr Maksimenko, Duay Joseph Jado, Evgeniy Prokopenko and Michail Aronovopreviously, who had been convicted and sentenced on similar charges, the statement said.

They are serving prison sentences ranging from seven to 14 years, it said.

If convicted, Gonikman faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison, as well as potential fines and restitution.