Today, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the major success of a lengthy investigation into a U.S. sex trafficking ring. Operation Dark Night broke a major criminal enterprise operating in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. The investigation culminated in a takedown yesterday.
Authorities made 13 criminal arrests and 44 administrative arrests that were tied to the investigation. Additionally, they rescued as many as 11 victims. The investigation was led by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Among the many duties ICE serves, preventing sex trafficking ranks among its most critical.
"ICE investigates a wide array of crimes, but the trafficking of women and girls for prostitution is among the most sinister," said ICE Director John Morton, who explained the urgency of the task.
"Few crimes so damage their victims and undermine basic human decency. Our fight against this evil must be relentless, both here and abroad," Morton stated.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia Edward Tarver called sex trafficking “modern day slavery” that is “reprehensible” and "a cancer facing our society….”
According to the indictment, Joaquin Mendez-Hernandez, known as “El Flaco”, conspired to transport people across interstate boundaries for prostitution. Mendez-Hernandez also allegedly conspired to lure women from Mexico, Nicaragua and elsewhere to travel to the United States. He offered them false promises of the American dream.
However, once the women were inside the United States, they were allegedly threatened. The victims were forced serve as prostitutes in many locations in Savannah and throughout the Southeast.
The indictment alleges that Mendez-Hernandez told a Mexican woman that she would be sent back to her home country unless she serviced 25 clients a day.
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.
ICE relies on information from the public to alert them to human trafficking. They operate an HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423). The Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 also accepts information. Anonymous calls are welcome.
Like dark energy, human trafficking is all around us, unseen but influencing lives.
Don't allow it to slip under your radar.