E-mails Key in Stripper-Scheme Case
January 20, 2001
One of the men charged with bringing seven Russian women to Anchorage as cultural dancers, then turning them into strippers, tried to erase months of e-mail correspondence with his co-defendants. But he didn't do it right, the prosecution said in federal court Friday.
As a result, the government has up to 1,000 pages of incriminating evidence against Tony Kennard, said assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Cooper on Friday as he argued against releasing Kennard to a third-party custodian.
Kennard is one of four people indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury on conspiracy and visa fraud charges. Agents for the Immigration and Naturalization Service continue to investigate possible additional charges, including sexual trafficking, officials said. A civil rights specialist from the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., has been assigned to the case as co-prosecutor.
Kennard and a Russian national, Viktor Virchenko, were arrested two weeks ago on a preliminary count. The indictment added Kennard's wife and a second Russian to the list of defendants.
Rachel Kennard was arrested Friday and pleaded not guilty to a single count of conspiracy. She is expected to remain in jail until a bail hearing next week.
Pavel Paris Agafonov, a Russian who lives in Atlanta, was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday in Philadelphia, Cooper said. He was released after posting his Atlanta home as a bond and is scheduled to appear in court in Anchorage next week, he said.
According to the INS, the four defendants hatched a scheme in October to "lure Russian female dancers to the United States under the pretext that they would perform native and folk dances of the Krasnodar region of Russia in cultural festivals."
Kennard worked through chambers of commerce in Eagle River and Palmer to get letters from the mayor of Anchorage and the city manager of Palmer endorsing a cultural exchange involving Russian folk dancers. Mayor George Wuerch's spokesman and Palmer city manager Tom Healy both said they responded to a request from the chambers for a routine letter, but gave no money and had no dealings with Kennard.
Virchenko is a well-known dance instructor in Krasnodar, a Russian city near the Black Sea, the indictment says. "He headed a folkloric dance troupe which frequently toured Russia and other countries performing."
The charges say Virchenko and Kennard were brought together by Agafonov, who operates "an Internet Web site which advertised 'Russian brides' and 'escorts.' "
Virchenko had the credentials to recruit dancers, and Kennard had "connections with strip clubs in Anchorage," the indictment says.
There were problems and delays getting visas approved, but when they finally were issued, Kennard e-mailed Agafonov a message that said: "We are rich!!!" according to the indictment.
The women were given tourist visas that did not permit them to work.
Kennard and Virchenko told the women, and INS, that they would be dancing in a folk festival called "Russian Winter in Alaska," which the indictment said does not exist.
When they arrived, they were told the festival was over and, on their second night here, they were taken to the Crazy Horse nightclub and told they would have to dance nude.
When the women, who don't speak English, refused, Virchenko "screamed and cursed at them, telling them they were ungrateful," the indictment says. "He informed the dancers that they could not leave the country until they had earned enough money dancing at the club to pay for their return ticket and living expenses."
Two of the dancers were 16 years old when they arrived here, Cooper said. One of them allegedly danced using someone else's identification.
Before they were taken into custody by INS agents two weeks later, the seven women shared a single room and slept on mattresses at the Kennards' Chugiak home, the charges say. The defendants took and kept all the dancers' pay and tips, the charges say.
After a lengthy bail hearing Friday, Magistrate Harry Branson approved release of Tony Kennard to the custody of a Kodiak man who is a family friend and runs an environmental service company. Kennard will work as a foreman on an asbestos removal job and live at the custodian's home, said defense attorney John Bernitz.
Bernitz warned that the investigation into the case was just beginning and pointed out that anyone can sign any name to an e-mail message.
Virchenko also appeared in court Friday to plead not guilty through a Russian interpreter. No application for bail was made. Cooper asked for, and received, a court order against Virchenko's wife, instructing her to stop calling the families of the dancers back in Russia. Cooper said she was telling the families that the dancers should not testify.
Reporter Sheila Toomey can be reached at email@example.com or 907 257-4341.
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© 2001 Anchorage Daily News