Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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Women Say Club Ignored Sexual Slavery

DETROIT (CN) - A strip club on Detroit's 8 Mile Road forced Ukrainian women to strip 12 hours a day, six days a week for months, knowing they had been sold into sexual slavery and had to turn over all their earnings to their traffickers, two women claim in court.

Jane Doe One and Two sued Veniamin Gonikman, Aleksandr Maksimenko, Mikhail Aronov and BFC Management Co. dba Ace of Spades Gentlemen's Club fdba Cheetah's On the Strip, in Federal Court.

"Plaintiffs are two young Ukrainian women, who were victims of sex and labor trafficking, involuntary servitude, and forced labor," the complaint begins.

The woman claim that Gonikman, Maksimenko and Aronov owned a company called Beauty Search Inc., which recruited and transported them from the Ukraine to the United States in 2004.

Beauty Search is not named as a defendant because the company was dissolved in 2005, when the individual defendants were arrested, the women say.

"The Beauty Search partners conceived and executed a plan to recruit and entice plaintiffs to move to the United States with promises of a better life. In reality, upon plaintiffs' arrival in the United States, the Beauty Search partners intended to virtually enslave the women and force them to strip and perform lap dances at a strip club (Cheetah's On the Strip) 12 hours a day, six days a week, for more than 72 hours a week, month after month. It was the Beauty Search Partners intention to confiscate all of the women's earnings for their own personal financial gain," the lawsuit states.

The women say the defendants confiscated their passports and immigration documents, and held them as prisoners, without access to cash, telephones or transportation.

Jane Doe One says she met Gonikman when she worked as a stripper in the Ukraine, and that he told her he could get her work as a waitress in the United States on a student visa, where she would make more money.

Jane Doe Two claims she dated Maksimenko in the Ukraine, grew to trust him, and believed him when he told her she could have a better life in the United States. She says the defendants arranged for her to travel to the United States through a fraudulent marriage.

Upon arriving in Detroit, the partners told each woman that "she owed them approximately $30,000 for her visa and travel expenses to the United States. The Beauty Search partners told Jane Doe One that to repay the money she owed them, she would be stripping and performing lap dances at a club (Cheetah's On The Strip), and all the money she made would have to be turned over to the Beauty Search partners until the debt was repaid," the complaint states.

For nearly nine months, Jane Doe One says, she turned over $500 to $700 in cash to the partners every night.

Jane Doe Two came to the United States three months after Jane Doe One.

The women say they were "terrified and wanted to escape, but they did not know where to go or whom they could trust. They had no identification documents or money and did not speak English well enough to communicate with anyone."

The partners referred to their intimidation methods as "the system," according to the complaint.

"Aronov and Maksimenko would beat the women, intimidate them with handguns and baseball bats, and threaten to handcuff them if they did not do what they were told," the complaint states. "If Jane Doe One and Jane Doe Two did not earn enough money, if they did not turn over all their earnings, even if they were seen talking too much to any particular customer, they were subject to 'the system.'

"On information and belief, two of the Beauty Search partners boasted to the owner of Cheetah's On the Strip: 'We taught them well. We smacked 'em around and everything. ... You gonna see them right now. ... So quiet. So respectful. No problems.'" (Parentheses in complaint.)

Maksimenko and Aronov also sexually assaulted and raped the women on a weekly basis, they say in the lawsuit.

"Maksimenko was very rough during these sexual encounters. He would strangle Jane Doe One and forcefully slap and bite her, often leaving Jane Doe One with bruises and bite marks," she says. (77)

Maksimenko told Jane Doe One repeatedly, "You are our property. You will do what you are told as long as we want," and "you will never go home again," according to the complaint.

Both women say they kept track of their earnings in a journal, but after they had earned the $30,000, the partners told them they would not be allowed to leave.

Desperate and suicidal, Jane Doe One says she confided in a customer, who helped her escape, and took her to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Two days later, the FBI raided the apartment where the women were held, and arrested Maksimenko and Aronov.

Maksimenko pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 years in prison; Aronov to seven years in prison, according to the complaint. Gonikman was apprehended in the Ukraine, and sentenced to three years in prison, it adds.

The women claim that the owner of Cheetah's, BFC Management, knew or should have known they were not being paid for their work. Unlike other strippers at the club, they were never charged a house fee, and were not allowed to leave the club unless one of the partners picked them up.

"BFC knew or was reckless in not knowing of and substantially aided and abetted the Beauty Search partners' scheme to exploit Jane Doe One and Jane Doe Two and force them to engage in commercial sex acts and forced labor through means of force, fraud and coercion," the complaint states.

The Does seek punitive damages for forced labor, sex trafficking, peonage and slavery, and aiding and abetting sex trafficking by fraud, force or coercion.

They are represented by Thomas Trapnell with Dykema Gossett in Detroit, and Gregory Little with White & Case in New York.

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