12 INDICTED FOR THEIR ROLES IN ALLEGED SEX TRAFFICKING AND PROSTITUTION RING OPERATING OUT OF SAVANNAH, GEORGIA
“Operation Dark Night” results in the dismantling of an alleged multi-state sex trafficking and prostitution ring, and the rescuing of several women allegedly forced into prostitution
SAVANNAH, GA – A federal indictment, unsealed today, has charged 12 defendants for their roles in an alleged sex trafficking and prostitution ring stretching from Georgia to Florida to North and South Carolina. The federal charges follow a lengthy investigation dubbed “Operation Dark Night,” which was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). Yesterday, in addition to a number of arrests and searches, federal authorities rescued 11 women alleged to have been forced into prostitution.
United States Attorney Edward Tarver said, “In what essentially amounts to slavery in the year 2013, the conduct described in the indictment against these defendants is reprehensible. Human trafficking is a cancer facing our society. This indictment confirms that the United States Attorney’s Office, HSI and other federal and state law enforcement agencies are taking an aggressive stand to stop the victimization of women involved in sex trafficking.”
“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 and abroad.”
According to allegations in the Indictment, Joaquin Mendez-Hernandez, aka El Flaco, conspired with each of the 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, Georgia 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.
A copy of the indictment is attached. Mr. Tarver stressed that an indictment is only an accusation and is not evidence of guilt. The Defendants are entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the Government’s burden to prove the defendants’ guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
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 ATF; U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); CBP Air and Marine Operations; IRS-Criminal Investigations; the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department; the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office; the Garden City Police Department; and, the Chatham County Counter Narcotics Team. Assistant United States Attorneys Tania D. Groover and E. Greg Gilluly, Jr. are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.