Skip to main content
Press Release

29 Defendants Arrested For Human Trafficking Offenses Following Undercover Investigation

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Georgia

Federal authorities arrested 29 people in 13 cities across eight states Thursday on sex trafficking and related charges in a sweeping operation dubbed “Operation Safe Haven” announced United States Attorney, Middle District of Georgia Michael J. Moore.

The operation, led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), began in Moultrie, Georgia and identified a loosely affiliated organization that coordinates the movement of Hispanic females throughout the southeastern United States. The traffickers within this organization work as independent operators and coordinate the movement and delivery of women for sexual purposes.

According to a five-count indictment filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, at least one of the victims identified during the investigation was a minor when she was trafficked. Law enforcement officers rescued 15 potential victims of fraud, force or coercion, in the brothels and residences searched yesterday.

“Human sex trafficking is a cancer that we must cut out, and then aggressively fight with all of our resources. Sometimes the trafficking victims are kidnapped and forced into sexual servitude through violence. Other times the victims are lured with the promise of a better life, and then held hostage by predators who literally financially imprison them or intimidate them with threats of harm or shame to them or their families. No matter the circumstances that brought these women into sexual servitude, they are victims. And whether the weapons used by the traffickers cause physical, mental or emotional harm, they are predators, and we will track them down no matter the cost. This investigation has been an example of the outstanding cooperation between federal and state agencies. I applaud their efforts. I also want to thank my colleagues, US Attorneys George Beck, Joyce Vance and Chris Canova for their partnership and assistance,” said U.S. Attorney Michael Moore.

The indictment charges six people with conspiracy to participate in the sex trafficking of a minor. 38 people are charged with conspiracy to transport a person in interstate commerce for prostitution – nine suspects remain at large after 29 were arrested Thursday. Three of the network’s customers have been charged with promoting the prostitution.

Individuals charged with conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking of a minor face up to life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. Individuals charged with conspiracy to transport a person in interstate commerce for purposes of prostitution and individuals charged with promoting prostitution face imprisonment up to five years and a $250,000 fine. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The female victims’ identities are being protected while HSI ensures they receive emergency medical assistance, food and shelter. 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.

“As previous investigations have shown, and “Operation Safe Haven” yet again confirms, the sex trafficking of foreign women in the United States is done by loosely organized criminal networks who have little, if any regard for the women they victimize,” said Special Agent in Charge Nick S. Annan, ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta. “This investigation identified women victimized through fraud, force and coercion, including underage teens. To the criminals behind these illegal enterprises, these women are just pieces of meat used to pull a quick profit and then discarded or passed on to the next trafficker down the line.”

 “Operation Safe Haven” is the first major investigation supported by the Joint Task Force for Investigations (JTF-I) since it became fully operational in July 2015. JTF-I first identified this operation as a priority investigation in January. The task force directed significant funding, intelligence, and analytical support to bolster the special agents investigating this criminal network from the HSI Savannah office.

"This operation highlights exactly what the Secretary charted us to do through these task forces,” said Dave Marwell, Director of DHS Joint Task Force – Investigations. “By strategically applying the broad resources of DHS against a priority investigation, criminal organizations don't stand a chance. We will continue to focus our efforts to ensure we are dismantling criminal organizations that traffic women into the US for the purposes of sexual slavery."

U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO) became involved with Operation Safe Haven in July 2014. AMO’s Jacksonville Air and Marine Branch flew more than 115 flight hours and launched 38 separate missions in furtherance of this dynamic investigation, using covert aerial surveillance to track suspects and identify multiple target locations. AMO’s presence greatly increased the situational awareness of agents on the ground. Multiple air assets and crews were committed to this investigation, including crews from AMO’s Miami, New Orleans and Houston locations.

“Collaboration is crucial in a mission of this caliber,” said Director Daniel Meagher, Air Operations at the Jacksonville Air and Marine Branch. “I am proud to say that our unique capabilities contributed to both the success of this mission and to the safety of all those involved.”

 Operation Safe Haven was led by HSI-Savannah with assistance from Savannah Chatham Metropolitan P.D, Savannah State University P.D., Chatham Narcotics Team, Colquitt County SO, Pierce County SO, CBP AMO, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, Coast Guard Investigative Service and Gwinnett County District Attorney's Office.

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. Online tips can be submitted at Anonymous calls and tips are welcome.




(1) Jose Roberto Laines a/k/a “El Viejon”

Moultrie, GA


(2) Galdino Benitez

Moultrie, GA


(3) Carmen Michelle Pecina

Moultrie, GA


(4) Yamileth Hernandez a/k/a “Yamileth Portillo” and “Gabby”



(5) Maria Mercado a/k/a “Marisol”

Duluth, GA


(6)Heriberta Caraballo a/k/a “Cristina” and “La Columbiana”



(7) Juan Ortiz Bojorquez



(8) Juan Jose Sotelo a/k/a “Don Jose”

Prairieville, LA


(9) Antonio Flores Esparza a/k/a “Tonio”

Pensacola, FL


(10) Jose Trujillo a/k/a “El Gordo”

Houston, TX


(11) Germania Guzman a/k/a “Deborah”

Houston, TX


(12)Flor Torres

Columbia, SC


(13) Uvaldo Barrioz Perez

Moultrie, GA


(14) John McLeod

Moultrie, GA


(15) Juan Gomez

Hartsfield, GA


(16) Evelyn Patricia Yanes, a/k/a “Patty”

Houston, TX


(17) Arnold Campbell

Houston, TX


(18) Leti LNU

Atlanta, GA


(19) Alejandro Monterrey

Norcross, GA


(20) Carlos Perez a/k/a “Chema”

Atlanta, GA


(21) Bernabe Carbajal, a/k/a “El Chaparro”

Montgomery, AL


(22) Gloria Isabel Reyes, a/k/a ”Estela Reyes,” Gloria Dominguez”, “Dona Gloria”

Forest, MS


(23) Milton Ivan Dominguez

Forest, MS


(24) Luis Roberto Dominguez



(25) Amada Garcia a/k/a “Marlene”

Taylor, SC


(26) Jaime Ramirez Villeda

Winston-Salem, NC


(27) Ernesto Trejos Villeda

Winston-Salem, NC


(28) Alba Blandon a/k/a “Dona Alba”

Sunset, LA


(29) Mauro Lira a/k/a “Chino”

Hattiesburg, MS


Updated October 30, 2015

Human Trafficking