New York, Monday, June 14, 2004
From Russia as
By Thomas Zambito
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
THEY came through Kennedy
Airport with visas claiming they had traveled 5,000
miles to work as musicians in internationally
renowned Russian show groups. Instead, the women of
Voronezh, an agribusiness city of 1 million people
in central Russia, worked as strippers in northern
New Jersey clubs like Delilah's Den and Frank's
Natasha, Vanessa, Liza, Lolita and about 30
others danced six days a week, shuttled from
Brooklyn apartments by a hulking ex-boxer.
Today, several are government witnesses in a
federal case that opens a window on the burgeoning
international trade in young, attractive Russian
"The fearful plight of these women, who were
forced to dance nude and perform other abhorrent
acts, cannot be measured in a 12-count indictment,"
New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey
said of the case. "Their plight can only be
measured in human tragedy."
One expert has
testified that as many as 8,000 women are
smuggled into the region each year to work in
strip clubs, massage parlors or as domestic
The trade generates thousands of dollars a week
for dancers who are forced to kick in between $200
and $600 a day to the people who brought them here
- money that over the years has attracted
In April 2000, Veronica Chaschina, a
28-year-old Russian stripper, was gunned down in
her Brighton Beach apartment by an acquaintance who
believed she was hiding more than $100,000.
"These women are not doing this oftheir own
choice," Jersey City Police Lt. Walter
Zalisko told a group gathered last month at the
Ukrainian Institute of America on East 79th St. for
the screening of a film that dramatized the
problem. "They're slaves."
He said the Russian mob is behind many of the
Zalisko, who is fluent in Russian, has assisted
with prosecutions in New York and New Jersey and
estimates he has spoken with as many as 800
victims, some as young as 15, working in strip
clubs or as prostitutes.
Since 2001, the Justice
Department has charged 149 traffickers - three
times the number from the previous three years.
Over the same period, 287 prosecutions were
"It's like a cancer that has gone undetected and
has metastasized," said Rep. Chris Smith
(R-N.J.), a sponsor of the Trafficking Victims
Enacted in 2000, the law increased penalties for
traffickers and made cooperating victims eligible
the center of the case involving the women of
Voronezh is Lev Trakhtenberg, a 39-year-old
Russian émigré who produces
theatrical shows for Brighton Beach's Russian
Trakhtenberg arrived in the United States in
1992 with a master's degree in Russian literature
and few prospects. Within a week, he found work
outside the Democratic National Convention at
Madison Square Garden, hawking flyers for a
Manhattan strip club.
Federal prosecutors say that in the late 1990s,
Trakhtenberg and his ex-wife, Viktoriya
I'lina, hatched the plan to bring women from
their native Voronezh to work in strip clubs in New
They placed ads in Voronezh newspapers, seeking
women who wanted to work "striptease" in America.
They hired I'lina's old flame Sergey
Malchikov, a former professional boxer, to
drive the women to their jobs from sparsely
furnished apartments in Brooklyn, authorities
Prosecutors say the couple lied on the women's
visas, claiming they would work in popular Russian
show groups or study at the University of Illinois.
Further, the prosecutors say, the women were not
informed of the "lascivious" nature of the
The women's passports were confiscated to
restrict their movement, and those who tried to
leave or refused to pay back their $5,000 smuggling
fee were threatened, prosecutors say.
Trakhtenberg tells a different story.
He said he and his family were forced to take
part in the smuggling by unnamed criminal elements.
He alleged his name was forged on the women's visa
documents and that they lied in the hopes of
"I never smuggled anybody," Trakhtenberg said as
he sipped Russian cognac in his Brooklyn apartment,
where he is under house arrest awaiting trial in
October in Newark Federal Court.
"Everybody who came here came here voluntarily.
Can you imagine they're calling this modern-day
slavery if many of [the dancers] came here
twice and continue to do the 'lascivious' dancing?
This is absurd."
But prosecutors said in court papers that
I'lina, attorney Larry Bronson and a private
investigator tried to intimidate witnesses in the
case at Delilah's Den in South Amboy, N.J., last
"We're gonna win, and I know they promised you a
green card," I'lina told one of the dancers,
according to a prosecutor's account. "They're going
to use you like condoms and throw you away."
Prosecutor Leslie Faye Schwartz said one
of the alleged victims told her that an attorney
and another man from the group came close to the
stage, waving $20 bills as she danced.
"Come on and talk to me like a customer," one of
the men said. "I'll take a dance."
Bronson questions the credibility of the
"Anybody who can stand on a stage and take their
clothes off and then give some greasy truck driver
a lap dance is not someone who is a shrinking
violet," Bronson said.