Sex trafficking ring spanning four states shut down
SAVANNAH, Ga. (WCIV) -- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the results of a
lengthy investigation, called Operation Dark Night, into a sex trafficking ring
operating in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. The investigation, which was
led by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), led to a takedown yesterday
in which authorities made 13 criminal arrests and 44 administrative arrests tied
to the investigation, as well as the rescue of as many as 11 victims.
"ICE investigates a wide array of crimes, but
the trafficking of women and girls for prostitution is among the most sinister,"
said ICE Director John Morton. "Few crimes so damage their victims and undermine
basic human decency. Our fight against this evil must be relentless, both here
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of
Georgia Edward Tarver said, "In what essentially amounts to slavery in the year
2013, the conduct described in the indictment against these defendants is
reprehensible. This case is a prime example of the United States Attorney's
Office and HSI recognizing that human trafficking is a cancer facing our society
and taking a stand to stop the victimization of women involved in sex
According to the indictment, Joaquin
Mendez-Hernandez, aka El Flaco, conspired with each of the other defendants to
transport people across interstate boundaries to engage in prostitution. In
addition, Mendez-Hernandez allegedly conspired with at least three others to
entice women from Mexico, Nicaragua and elsewhere to travel to the United States
with false promises of the American dream. Once inside the United States, these
women were allegedly threatened and forced to commit acts of prostitution at
numerous locations in Savannah and throughout the Southeast. In one such
instance identified in the indictment, Mendez-Hernandez is alleged to have told
a Mexican woman that she would be sent back to her home country unless she
serviced 25 clients a day.
HSI provides relief to victims of human
trafficking by allowing for their continued presence in the United States during
criminal proceedings. Victims may also qualify for a T visa, which is issued to
victims of human trafficking who have complied with reasonable requests for
assistance in investigations and prosecutions. Anyone who suspects instances of
human trafficking is encouraged to call the HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE
(866-347-2423) or the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Anonymous
calls are welcome.
Operation Dark Night was led by HSI, with
assistance from the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and
Explosives; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); CBP Air and Marine
Operations; the Internal Revenue Service's Criminal Investigations; the
Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department; the Chatham County Sheriff's
Office; the Garden City Police Department; and, the Chatham-Savannah Counter
Narcotics Team. Assistant U.S. Attorney Tania D. Groover and E. Greg Gilluly Jr.
are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.
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