Savannah based sex trafficking ring uncovered

Published: Jan. 17, 2013 at 11:50 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2013 at 11:00 AM EST
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Map of Operation Dark Night presented at news conference.
Map of Operation Dark Night presented at news conference.

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - On Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the results of a lengthy investigation called Operation Dark Night. It looked into a sex trafficking ring stretching from Florida to Georgia to North and South Carolina

An apartment on Tibet Ave. is where some of the women were housed. They were forced into prostitution and traded like slaves in various cities for about a week at a time.

On Wednesday, Mexican national Joaquin Mendez Hernandez and nearly a dozen of his conspirators were arrested for bringing women from Mexico and Central America, promising them a better life, yet forcing them to work as prostitutes in homes, hotel rooms, and mobile parks.

11 victims were rescued and 40 customers called Johns were also taken into custody. Investigators say the women were forced to perform up to 30 sex acts per day.

"We have rescued a number of young women who are in awfully abusive situations," said ICE Director John Morton. "There is an element of sadness to it because these women were cohered into prostitution. Their lives have been forever changed and we are going to spend the next couple of months and years trying to get them back in good place. "

So far, 12 people, eight men and four women, have been indicted in the U.S. District Court in Savannah. Prosecutors say the the sex ring was catered to Latino immigrants and targeted smaller communities like Savannah, Macon and Bonaire. Local groups against sex trafficking say the problem is larger than they suspected.

"We just found out its a bigger issue than many people thought," said Joan Garcia-Melendez, President of Savannah Working Against Human Trafficking. "Human trafficking is a very hidden crime, it's hard to produce victims and many times when victims are found, the facts have to be kept quiet for a long time."

Authorities say this is a wakeup call as to how widespread sex trafficking has become in the United States. Last year, agents arrested 967 people in relation to human trafficking and sex trade. More arrests could be made stemming from this investigation.

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