Former athletics champ sentenced to 5.5 years for running sex trafficking ring

Svetlana Gnezdilov convicted of pimping and financial offenses for operating Tel Aviv-based network under guise of offering massage services

File: Former champion athlete Svetlana Gnezdilov, seen on a screen via a video link during a court hearing for sex trafficking charges at the Tel Aviv District Court on June 22, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Former champion athlete Svetlana Gnezdilov, seen on a screen via a video link during a court hearing for sex trafficking charges at the Tel Aviv District Court on June 22, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A former internationally competitive athlete and the Israeli record-holder in the heptathlon was sentenced Wednesday to five and a half years in prison for managing a sex trafficking ring that recruited women from abroad for prostitution.

Svetlana Gnezdilov, 51, was found guilty of pimping and financial offenses by the Tel Aviv District Court three months ago. According to the charges, she ran the trafficking ring for five years in a series of apartments in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, under the guise of offering massage services.

The court also fined Gnezdilov NIS 100,000 ($27,000). She has denied the charges against her.

Prosecutors said Gnezdilov employed women from Israel and abroad to provide sex services. For any woman brought to Israel, Gnezdilov would pay a commission of NIS 1,000 ($290) to the recruiter.

The chain of brothels operated methodically and under strict rules, the indictment said. On each shift, a prostitute served between one and 20 customers, while each shift was in a different apartment.

Prostitutes would earn NIS 250 ($70) per customer, from which Gnezdilov would take NIS 150 ($40). When clients gave tips for the service, Gnezdilov would also claim a bigger share than the sex worker, the prosecution said.

Israel’s Svetlana Gnezdilov throws during the heptathlon javelin competition at the European Athletics Championships in Goteborg, Sweden, August 8, 2006. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Pimping, sex trafficking and running a brothel are punishable under existing Israeli law, though prostitution is technically allowed. In December 2018 the Knesset approved a law that also punishes johns caught hiring sex workers.

Gnezdilov is said to have been the manager of the trafficking ring, responsible for locating and renting the apartments that served as brothels, recruiting the women abroad through online ads, meeting them and persuading them to become prostitutes.

She instructed them on how to avoid raising authorities’ suspicion by using false names and cover stories and how to behave if cops showed up.

Gnezdilov was originally indicted in 2017 over managing the trafficking ring, but the charges were dropped in January 2020 after prosecutors deemed the evidence in the case insufficient.

She was born in Ukraine and moved to Israel in 1996, at the age of 27. Her Israeli heptathlon record from 2003 still holds, as does her record from the same year in the 4X400 meter relay.

She also held the Israeli long jump record from 2004 to 2014, when it was broken by Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko.

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