Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Strip Club Owner Fled To Ukraine

DETROIT, USA -- Strip club owner Veniamin Gonikman fled to Ukraine to escape human trafficking charges, U.S. magistrate says. Gonikman claims he was never on the run. A federal magistrate isn't buying it.
In the latest development in a 5-year-old human trafficking case, a federal magistrate said Monday that there is no way Ukrainian nightclub owner Veniamin Gonikman didn't know he was wanted in Detroit on human smuggling charges -- not when his son, ex-wife, daughter-in-law and business partner all were targeted for arrest.

Gonikman fled the country in 2005, the government claims, just weeks before his family members and business partner were charged with smuggling eastern European women into the country and forcing them to work at Detroit strip clubs.

"It would be unrealistic optimism -- or denial -- for Defendant to think he was not next or had not already been charged," U.S. Magistrate Laurie Michelson wrote in court documents filed Monday.

"Defendant has not offered any plausible explanation for why he suddenly abandoned his life and the majority of his family in the United States to remain full time in Ukraine."

Gonikman, who was on the government's most-wanted list, also is charged in the trafficking case.

The government says he fled the country to avoid prosecution and even tried to buy his freedom when he was arrested in January.

According to new details released Monday, Gonikman tried to bribe a Ukrainian senior investigator with $500,000 to let him go.

It didn't work. Gonikman was deported back to the U.S.

Gonikman, however, says he didn't know about the charges -- that he lived openly in a Ukrainian village for years and no one ever came looking for him.

That, concluded Michelson, "is simply not credible."
Michelson's comments were part of a 27-page report in which she recommended that Gonikman's request to have the charges dropped be denied.

Gonikman wants the case dismissed, saying he has been denied the right to a speedy trial because of the nearly five-year delay between his indictment in 2006 and his actual arrest, when Ukrainian authorities picked him up on immigration charges.

The government, though, has argued that Gonikman himself is to blame for the delay because he fled the country and remained in hiding.

Gonikman came to the attention of authorities in Detroit in 2005, when one of his alleged victims escaped.

Gonikman is accused of operating Beauty Search, which was a cover for a human trafficking operation.

Authorities have said the women were forced to work 12 hours a day and turn over their earnings -- more than $1 million worth -- to Gonikman and his associates.

Gonikman's son, Aleksandr Maksimenko of Livonia, and other associates are serving prison sentences ranging from seven to 14 years.

Gonikman's lawyer, Walter Piszczatowski, was not available for comment.

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