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Department of Justice

United States Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of Michigan

Press Release

Contact:
Gina Balaya
Assistant United States Attorney
(313) 226-9758

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

June 25, 2007

LIVONIA MAN SENTENCED TO 14 YEARS IN PRISON AND $1.5 MILLION IN RESTITUTION FOR
FORCING EASTERN EUROPEAN WOMEN TO WORK AT DETROIT AREA STRIP CLUBS

DETROIT - Aleksandr Maksimenko, age 27, was sentenced today to serve 168 months (14 years) in prison and pay more than $1.5 million in restitution for his role as one of the ring-leaders in a conspiracy to force Eastern European women to work as exotic dancers in Detroit area strip clubs, Stephen J. Murphy, United States Attorney, Eastern District of Michigan, and Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division, announced. United States District Judge Victoria A. Roberts sentenced Maksimenko following his conviction for an involuntary servitude, immigration and money laundering conspiracy. Maksimenko is a naturalized U.S. citizen, born in Ukraine, who resided in Livonia, Michigan, at the time of his arrest in mid-February 2005.

"The defendants in this case took advantage of innocent women from Eastern Europe by enticing them to come the United States and then holding them in bondage for commercial and sexual exploitation," said U.S. Attorney Stephen J. Murphy. "In sentencing Mr. Maksimenko to 14 years in prison, the Court underscored the gravity of this type of crime. Criminal operations involving human trafficking, such as this one, will be pursued with the greatest vigor by my office."

"Human trafficking, as exemplified in this case, is nothing short of modern-day slavery," said Wan J. Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "The Department of Justice is committed to vigorously prosecuting these crimes wherever they occur."

According to court papers, Maksimenko and his business partners operated a human trafficking ring which exploited Eastern European women and used the guise of a legitimate business - Beauty Search, Inc. - to cover their criminal conduct. Maksimenko and his partners smuggled women into the United States and compelled them through threats and coercion to work as dancers in strip clubs. To force the women to keep working, Maksimenko and his partners took a number of steps, including confiscating the dancers' passports; imposing large debts; isolating the dancers; threatening physical violence; searching the dancers' apartments; and threatening to turn the dancers into authorities because of their illegal immigrant status.

The Court increased Maksimenko's sentence after finding that Maksimenko sexually abused two of the dancers who labored for Beauty Search. The Court also found that Maksimenko unlawfully took over $1.5 million in earnings from the dancers. The Court entered a preliminary order of restitution requiring Maksimenko to pay the dancers a total of $1,570,450, the amount of earnings the victims were forced to turn over to Beauty Search. The Court further ordered that $537,043.84 in cash seized by government agents from Maksimenko's home and safety deposit boxes, as well as about $30,000 worth of jewelry, be used to satisfy a portion of the Court's restitution award.

Maksimenko is the third of nine defendants to be sentenced for crimes associated with this trafficking conspiracy. Still to be sentenced is Michail Aronov, a Lithuanian citizen from the Chicago area, who was also a ring-leader in this involuntary servitude conspiracy. Aronov, like Maksimenko, pleaded guilty to participating in this conspiracy. He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 16, 2007, at 2 p.m. Others who have been convicted in the prosecution include the following:

Duay Joseph Jado, a Greek citizen from the Skokie, Illinois area, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for setting fire to the car of one of the dancers. Jado set the fire to retaliate against the dancer for her failure to repay a debt allegedly owed to Beauty Search and for her escape from the defendants.

Evgeniy Prokopenko and Alexander Bondarenko, two Ukrainian citizens residing in Brooklyn, NY, pleaded guilty to visa fraud, admitting that they entered into sham marriages in 2004 with two of the dancers in order to permit the dancers to gain entry into the United States.

Anna Gonikman-Starchenko, a Ukrainian citizen living in the Detroit metro area, pleaded guilty to obstruction-related charges stemming from actions taken following the arrests of Maksimenko and Aronov. Gonikman-Starchenko is scheduled to be sentenced on June 28, 2007 at 10:30 a.m.

Niki Papoutsaki, a Greek citizen living in the Detroit metro area, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony in connection with obstruction-related activity. Papoutsaki is scheduled to be sentenced on June 28, 2007 at 10:00 a.m.

Valentina Maksimenko, a naturalized U.S. citizen residing in the Chicago area, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to obstruct justice during the course of the federal investigation. Valentina Maksimenko is scheduled to be sentenced on June 28, 2007 at 11:00 a.m.

Human trafficking prosecutions are a top priority of the Department. In the last six fiscal years, the Civil Rights Division, in conjunction with U.S. Attorneys' Offices, has increased by six-fold the number of human trafficking cases filed in court. In 2006, the Department obtained a record number of convictions in human trafficking prosecutions.

The case was investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, and the State Department Diplomatic Security Service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Chutkow and Luis de Baca, Chief Counsel, Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, Criminal Section, Civil Rights Division, are prosecuting the case. Peter Ziedas, Assistant United States Attorney is handling the asset forfeiture part of the case.