12 indicted in multi-state sex trafficking, prostitution sting

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - In a federal investigation that spanned four states including South Carolina, 12 people were indicted on charges of trafficking of women and girls for prostitution from countries including Mexico and Nicaragua.

According to an indictment announced Thursday, 11 women were forced into prostitution as part of the ring that was run in Savannah, other parts of Georgia, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

The federal probe called Operation Dark Night was led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations and involved several federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Joaquin Mendez-Hernandez, aka El Flaco, transported people across borders for prostitution and conspired with at least three others to entice women from Mexico, Nicaragua and elsewhere to travel to the U.S. under false pretenses, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Georgia. When the women got to the U.S., they were threatened and forced into prostitution.

Mendez-Hernandez told a Mexican woman that she would be sent back to her home country unless she had 25 clients a day, according to the indictment.

"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," said U.S. Attorney Edward Tarver in a statement.

The FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Customs and Border Protection and its Air and Marine Operations; IRS-Criminal Investigations; Savannah-Chatham Metro Police; Chatham County Sheriff's Office; Garden City Police Dept. and the Chatham County Counter Narcotics Team were part of Operation Dark Night.

Anyone who suspects instances of human trafficking is encouraged to call the HSI tipline at 1.866.DHS.2.ICE or the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1.888.373.7888. Anonymous calls are welcome.

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