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January 27, 2011Detroit, MI, United StatesHuman Smuggling/Trafficking

ICE most wanted fugitive arrested at JFK on human trafficking charges

Extorted more than $1 million in earnings from victims
ICE most wanted fugitive arrested at JFK on human trafficking charges

DETROIT - Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrested today one of ICE's top ten fugitives at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

Veniamin Gonikman, 55, was charged in Detroit in 2005 in a 22-count indictment with trafficking in persons, forced labor, alien smuggling, money laundering, extortion collection and conspiracy, among other charges. He absconded from the United States before being formally charged.

Gonikman, a U.S. citizen, was arrested in Ukraine yesterday, before being deported to the United States. HSI special agents assigned to ICE's attaché office in Germany coordinated Gonikman's arrest and deportation with Ukrainian officials.

According to court records, he came to the attention of HSI special agents in Detroit in 2005 when one of his victims escaped and agents later confirmed he was operating a company called "Beauty Search, Inc.," in metro Detroit.

The indictment alleges that Gonikman, along with his co-conspirators, formed and operated Beauty Search as a corporate cover for a human trafficking operation which smuggled and harbored Eastern European women in the United States. The women were exploited and abused by forcing them - through threats, coercion and isolation - to work as exotic dancers for the economic benefit of the Beauty Search partners.

The women primarily staffed strip clubs in Detroit, where it is alleged they were forced to work 12 hours a day and have all of the proceeds extorted by Gonikman and his associates. The indictment and other court papers allege that the women gave the co-conspirators more than $1 million of their earnings.

In an effort to highlight the global threat of human trafficking, one of the conspiracy's victims testified before the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary in 2007 about her treatment at the hands of the Beauty Search partners.

"They forced me to work six days a week for twelve hours a day," she said. "I could not refuse to go to work or I would be beaten. I had to hand over all of my money. I was often yelled at for not making enough money or had a gun put to my face. Every week I handed over around $3000 to $4000. I was their slave."

Gonikman will make an initial appearance tomorrow in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. He is scheduled to be extradited to the Eastern District of Michigan at a later date to face the current charges.

"This arrest is a potent example of ICE's unyielding resolve to bring human traffickers to justice," said ICE Director John Morton. "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."

Gonikman's associates including his son Aleksandr Maksimenko, Duay Joseph Jado, Evgeniy Prokopenko and Michail Aronovo were previously convicted and sentenced on similar charges. They are currently serving prison sentences ranging from seven to 14 years.

Three other defendants in this case were also convicted.

Gonikman, like all defendants, is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison, plus potential fines and restitution.