Ukrainian Man Denies Knowing He Was Wanted For Human Trafficking

DETROIT, USA -- He claims he was never on the run. The government says that's hogwash. In the latest development in a 5-year-old human trafficking case, the government is lambasting a Ukrainian nightclub owner's claim that he never knew he was a wanted man.

Veniamin Gonikman, 53, is charged with smuggling women into the U.S. and forcing them to work at Detroit strip clubs.

Veniamin Gonikman, who was on the government's most-wanted list, is charged with smuggling eastern European women into the U.S. and forcing them to work at Detroit strip clubs.

The government says he fled the country in 2005 to avoid prosecution, but he claims he lived openly in a Ukrainian village for years, and no one ever came looking for him.

The government argues that there's no way Gonikman didn't know he was being sought -- not when his son, ex-wife, daughter-in-law and business partner were all targeted in the human-smuggling operation.

"Eventually, this entire circle of people -- except for Gonikman's parents -- were charged and convicted of federal crimes arising from the forced-labor conspiracy. Yet, Gonikman never traveled to the United States to assist them in facing and resolving these charges," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow wrote in court documents filed Wednesday.

"It is hard to understand how Gonikman cannot remember whether or not he was involved in a conspiracy to traffic eastern European women that caused the arrest and convictions of nearly his entire family."

The government's filing is a response to Gonikman's recent request to get the charges against him dropped.

He claims he has been denied the right to a speedy trial because of the nearly 5-year delay between his indictment in 2006 and his actual arrest in January, when Ukrainian authorities arrested him on immigration charges.

Gonikman, 53, said in documents that he lived in Ukraine for nearly five years with his now 14-year-old daughter, owned a small business and was well-known to locals.

"His whereabouts were no mystery," his lawyer, Walter Piszczatowski, has argued in court documents.

Prosecutors say Gonikman eluded authorities by using a fake Russian passport and a fake name.

According to travel records obtained by the government, Gonikman, who had flown regularly between the U.S. and Ukraine for years, left the U.S. for the last time Jan. 31, 2005.

Two weeks later, his son and business partner were arrested for running a human-smuggling operation in Detroit. Gonikman never returned.

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

Agents later confirmed Gonikman was operating Beauty Search, which was a cover for an operation that smuggled women.

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.

Source: Detroit Free Press