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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Charges Laid in Alaskan Strippers Case

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Two Russians and an Alaska couple have been charged with conspiring to enslave Russian women and girls by forcing them to work in a strip club in Alaska.

Victor Virchenko, Pavel Agafonov, Tony Kennard and his wife Rachel Kennard were charged Thursday in a 23-count indictment with conspiring to lure six Russian women to the state in December 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The indictment also charges the defendants with kidnapping, transportation of minors for illegal sexual activity and visa fraud.

If convicted, the four could receive life in prison.

The case is the first prosecution under a law enacted last year to stop trafficking in humans. The law, signed by then President Bill Clinton last October, increases penalties against traffickers, provides federal assistance to victims and outlines the possibility of withholding aid to countries that do not curb trafficking within their borders.

Prosecutors said the women were told that if they came to Alaska, they'd perform Russian folk dances in a cultural festival, but were forced instead to dance nude. Two of the dancers were 16 years old at the time.

The women were threatened and their passports, visas and plane tickets were confiscated, authorities said.

Tony Kennard, 38, of Chugiak, and Virchenko, a Russian national, were arrested earlier this month. Kennard's wife was added to the indictment. Agafonov, a Russian who lives in Atlanta, was arrested by the FBI in Philadelphia.

When the women arrived, they were told the festival was over and they would have to dance at the Crazy Horse nightclub, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said. Virchenko told them they couldn't leave until they had earned enough money to pay for their living expenses and tickets home, the indictment says.

Virchenko is a well-known dance instructor in Krasnodar, a Russian city near the Black Sea, and headed a dance troupe that frequently toured Russia and other countries.

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.