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Gonikman: Michigan Fugitive Arrested In New York

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DETROIT (WWJ) Agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrested one of ICE’s top ten fugitives at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Thursday.

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 U.S. before being formally charged.

Gonikman, a U.S. citizen, was arrested on Wednesday in Ukraine, before being deported to the United States.  HSI agents assigned to the 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 victim’s escaped and agents later confirmed he was operating “Beauty Search, Inc.” in metro Detroit.

The indictment alleges that Gonikman, along with his co-conspirators, formed and operated a company called “Beauty Search, Inc.,” as a corporate cover for a human trafficking operation which smuggled and harbored Eastern European women in the United States, where they 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-$4000. I was their slave.”

Gonikman will make an initial appearance Thursday in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York. He his 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.

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