ANCHORAGE They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In Anchorage, art may be in the eye of the voyeur.
A Chugiak man and a Russian accomplice are in jail after being charged with lying to get Russian dancers into Alaska for "cultural" performances that turned out to be stripping.
Seven Russian women ages 16 to 30 from Krasnodar, near the Black Sea, apparently were recruited by dance instructor Viktor Virchenko to come to Alaska to dance in folk festivals. The women said they rehearsed folk dances and "contemporary rhythm dances" with Virchenko at his dance studio.
Once in Anchorage, however, they were taken to the Crazy Horse nightclub, according to an affidavit filed as part of the case: "They further stated that they were shocked when told they would be dancing in a strip club."
At first the women performed only Russian folk dances, clothed in traditional costumes. They would then change into "stripper clothes" and circulate among the patrons performing table dances for tips.
Within days, "they were encouraged ... to dance topless and then nude," the affidavit said.
Federal immigration agent Stefanie Vetter said the women never were taken to perform at any genuine cultural event.
"These women and others were brought to the United States for purposes other than exhibiting their cultural heritage in the form of folk dances, but rather to be placed in involuntary servitude and coerced into dancing for money," Vetter said.
The women lived at the home of Tony Kennard, who was charged with Virchenko, the affidavit said.
According to investigators, Kennard or Virchenko kept the women's passports and airline tickets.
Federal agents arrested the dance instructor Monday as he tried to fly back to Russia with three of the women. Agents arrested Kennard, of Chugiak, on Tuesday for his part in the alleged fraud, including a felony count of aiding and abetting preparation of false visa applications. Both were jailed.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service took all seven women into custody after agents observed several of them dancing nude and accepting tips from customers.
They face no charges because they are considered victims and are being looked after by the INS, said Robert Eddy, director of the agency for Alaska.
"We don't know if it's part of something bigger," Eddy said. "We're still investigating. It's the kind of case that recent federal legislation addresses in terms of worker exploitation and trafficking in women and children. It has the attention of the highest levels of the Department of Justice in Washington."