United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver announced on September 25 that 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. Mendez-Hernandez faces a possible life sentence for his role in the sex trafficking organization.
Each of the 23 defendants charged earlier this year in an operation dubbed ‘Dark Night’ have pled guilty. Two 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 stated, “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, 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:
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