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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Georgia

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Leader Of International Sex Trafficking Organization Plead Guilty

All 23 defendants in custody have now pled guilty arising out of
Human/Sex Trafficking Investigation Dark Night 

SAVANNAH, GA - Joaquin Mendez-Hernandez, a/k/a, El Flaco, 35, formerly of  Mexico, pled guilty last week before Senior United States District Court Judge B. Avant Edenfield for his role in a sex trafficking organization which operated in Savannah, Georgia, parts of Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, and in Mexico.  El Flaco faces a possible life sentence for his role in the sex trafficking organization.

Each of the 23 defendants that were charged earlier this year in an operation dubbed “Dark Night” have pled guilty.  2 additional defendants, Eugenio Prieto-Hernandez and Daniel Ribon-Gonzalez, remain fugitives.  Operation Dark Night represents the largest sex-trafficking investigation ever prosecuted in the Southern District of Georgia.
According to evidence presented during numerous guilty pleas, local and federal law enforcement agencies identified and dismantled an international sex trafficking enterprise that spread from Mexico to Savannah, Georgia.  Members of the organization enticed 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 threatened and forced to commit acts of prostitution at numerous locations in Savannah and throughout the southeast.  Women were forced to engage in sexual activity with as many as 30-50 people a day.  To make sure the women complied, members of the organization threatened the women; used violence against the women; and held children hostage in Mexico.  Members of the organization would also trade their victims to other members who operated in other states.

United States Attorney Edward Tarver states, “It is with great pride that I announce the convictions of all of the defendants who were indicted and arrested in connection with ‘Operation Dark Night.’  This case serves as an example of how local and federal law enforcement can work together to rescue women, save lives, and prosecute criminals.  In this case, justice was swift; and we expect the punishment to be severe.”

“The conviction of the monsters arrested in this heinous sex trafficking scheme marks the end of a life of misery inflicted on these innocent victims of human trafficking.  The perpetrators, ranging from street-level customers to international sex traffickers, will be held accountable for their repeated victimization and exploitation of these vulnerable women,” said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Atlanta.  “We are deeply gratified by the significant support we received from our law enforcement partners, non-governmental service organizations and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District Georgia for bringing Operation Dark Night to a successful conclusion.”

The 23 defendants who pled guilty in Operation Dark Night are: 

Joaquin Mendez-Hernandez, a/k/a, “El Flaco,” 35, Savannah, Georgia

Juan Carlos Pena, 55, Bonaire, Georgia

Luisa Capilla-Lancho, a/k/a “Marisol” 32, Savannah, Georgia

Jorge Lira-Xochicale, a/k/a “Roger,” a/k/a “Juan De Dios,” a/k/a “Juan Diablo,” 35,
Atlanta, Georgia

Mayer Sanchez-Calderon, a/k/a “Maye,” 22, Charlotte, North Carolina

Claudio Sanchez-Calderon, a/k/a “Borrego,” 43, Charlotte, North Carolina

Omar Peralta-Rodriguez, a/k/a “Erick Peralta,” a/k/a “El Negro,” 42, Baxley, Georgia

Neurby Celenia Diaz, a/k/a “Dona Rosa,” 48, Baxley, Georgia

Antonio Ubaldo Mendez-Lopez, 46, Naples, Florida

Cesar Aguilar-Rebollar, a/k/a “Cesar Nicholas Jaime,” 44, Tampa, Florida

Sylvia Barrera, 30, Warner Robbins, Georgia

David Reyes, 29, Savannah, Georgia

Antonio Ramirez-Catalan, a/k/a “Joel,” 30, Monroe, North Carolina

Jose Ricardo Vazquez-Garcia, 39, W. Columbia, South Carolina

Marisol Ferreriras, 38, Marietta, Georgia

Paresh Patel, 55, Savannah, Georgia

Sergio Valazquez Martinez, 35, Savannah, Georgia

Fernando Pelayo Silverio, 27, Savannah, Georgia

Arturo Salquil- Gomez, 41, Savannah, Georgia

Jose Hernandez-Trujillo, 29, Savannah, Georgia

Silvstre Aguilar Sayago, a/k/a “Chucky,” 27, Savannah, Georgia

Rodolfo Hernandez Guiterrez, 44, Savannah, Georgia

Alex Martinez Monzon, 36, Savannah, Georgia

Many of these defendants are awaiting sentencing.

12 victims were rescued as a part of Operation Dark Night.  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 Attorney Tania D. Groover and E. Greg Gilluly, Jr. are prosecuting the case on behalf of the United States.  For additional information, please contact First Assistant United States Attorney James D. Durham at (912) 201-2547.

Updated April 10, 2015