Ukrainian man to face sex trafficking charges

CHICAGO Fri Jan 28, 2011 1:38pm EST

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - A Ukrainian man accused of forcing women to work as strippers in Detroit clubs was in New York on Friday for his first court appearance after being on the run for more than five years, officials said.

Veniamin Gonikman, 55, was indicted in Detroit in 2005, but fled the U.S. and was put on the Homeland Security most wanted list.

He was deported from Ukraine Wednesday, and arrested at Kennedy International Airport late Thursday night, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency spokesman Khaalid Walls.

"This was a very high priority arrest," said Walls.

Gonikman is charged in a 22-count federal indictment with human trafficking, forced labor, extortion, and other charges, Walls said. He will be returned to Detroit to face the charges at a later date, Walls said.

Gonikman, along with his co-conspirators, would entice Eastern European women into working for the "Beauty Search" company, promising them high-paying jobs and places to live in the United States, according to the indictment.

The co-conspirators would then force the women to work as exotic dancers, take all or most of their earnings, and use verbal abuse, isolation, threats and physical violence to keep them under control, prosecutors said. One of the gang burned a car belonging to one of the dancer's sisters, in retaliation for the dancer's escape, prosecutors said.

Gonikman's son, Aleksandr Maksimenko, also allegedly forced the dancers to have sex with him, by intimidating them and reminding them that they owed him a debt, according to the agency.

Maksimenko and other co-conspirators have already been convicted and sentenced on similar charges.

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski, Editing by Greg McCune)

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