After five years of trying to hunt him down, the federal government today had a Ukrainian nightclub owner where they wanted him: in a federal courtroom in Detroit, facing charges that he smuggled women into the country and forced them to work in metro Detroit strip clubs.
Veniamin Gonikman, who was on the lam for five years until he was arrested Jan. 26 by officials in Ukraine, said nothing during his arraignment in U.S. District Court. Gonikman, a U.S. citizen who speaks Russian and broken English, will return to court March 3 to complete his arraignment with the help of an interpreter.
His lawyer, Walter “Wally” Pisqczatowski, whose clients have included Eminem, Marilyn Manson and Jack White, declined comment. Gonikman also is being represented by New York attorney Jeffrey Rabin, who would only say: “He’s asserting his innocence, there’s no question about that.”
According to court documents, Gonikman, 55, had been hiding out in a Ukrainian village for years using a counterfeit Russian passport and a fictitious name before being arrested there for immigration violations. He was then flown to New York, where he was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Gonikman had been on the U.S. government’s most-wanted list since fleeing the country in 2005, shortly after being indicted in Detroit on human trafficking and forced labor charges.
According to court records, Gonikman came to the attention of agents in Detroit in 2005, when one of his victims escaped and agents confirmed he was operating Beauty Search in metro Detroit.
According to the indictment, Gonikman and several others, including his son, used Beauty Search as a cover for an operation that smuggled women into the U.S..
The women primarily staffed Detroit strip clubs, where they allegedly were forced to work 12 hours a day and gave all their proceeds — more than $1 million — to Gonikman and his associates, court records show.
Gonikman’s associates, including his son, Aleksandr Maksimenko of Livonia, were convicted on charges similar to the ones he faces. They are serving prison sentences ranging from seven to 14 years.
If convicted, Gonikman faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.