Home Atlanta Press Releases 2014 Leader of International Sex Trafficking Ring Sentenced to Life in Prison

Leader of International Sex Trafficking Ring Sentenced to Life in Prison
Operation Dark Night, the Largest Sex Trafficking Organization Ever Prosecuted in the Southern District of Georgia, Results in 23 Convictions and the Rescue of 12 Victims

U.S. Attorney’s Office February 19, 2014
  • Southern District of Georgia (912) 652-4422

SAVANNAH, GA—Joaquin Mendez-Hernandez, also known as “El Flaco,” 35, formerly of Mexico, was sentenced today by Senior U.S. District Court Judge B. Avant Edenfield to life in prison for his role in a sex trafficking conspiracy that exploited dozens of women. The investigation into this conspiracy, dubbed Operation Dark Night, has resulted in the conviction of 23 defendants and the rescue of 12 victims.

United States Attorney Edward J. Tarver stated, “It is reprehensible that an international sex trafficking organization set up shop within our very own communities. This organization destroyed the lives of many victims through fear, violence, and intimidation, all for the love of money. Those responsible will now pay the price in a federal prison.”

“While it is extremely satisfying to see these defendants held accountable for their atrocious crimes, the clear victory in this case was the rescue of their victims,” said Special Agent in Charge Brock D. Nicholson, who oversees Homeland Security Investigations in Georgia and the Carolinas. “From the testimony they provided in court, these women have begun to rebuild their lives, and I applaud their bravery and courage in confronting their abusers and rejecting the roles they were forced into.”

According to evidence presented during numerous guilty plea and sentencing hearings, 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, the 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 50 people a day. To make sure the women complied, members of the organization threatened the women, used violence against them, and held children hostage in Mexico. Members of the organization would also trade their victims to other members who operated in other states, such as Florida and North and South Carolina.

Each of the 23 defendants arrested in Operation Dark Night have pled guilty and been sentenced. Two additional defendants, Eugenio Prieto-Hernandez and Daniel Ribon-Gonzalez, remain fugitives. A listing of the defendants and their sentences or fugitive status is below.

Operation Dark Night represents the largest sex trafficking investigation ever prosecuted in the Southern District of Georgia. The operation was conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) with assistance from FBI, ATF, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), CBP Air and Marine Operations, IRS-Criminal Investigations, Coast Guard Investigative Services, Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, Garden City Police Department, and Chatham County Counter Narcotics Team.

Twelve 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.

Assistant United States Attorneys Tania Groover and Greg Gilluly prosecuted 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 or james.durham@usdoj.gov.

Operation Dark Night Defendants

  • Eugenio Prieto-Hernandez: Fugitive
  • Joaquin Mendez-Hernandez (a/k/a “El Flaco”): Life in prison
  • Juan Carlos Pena: 240 months in prison
  • Luisa Capilla-Lancho: 60 months in prison
  • Jorge Lira-Xochicale: 66 months in prison
  • Mayer Sanchez-Calderon: 180 months in prison
  • Claudio Sanchez-Calderon: 180 months in prison
  • Omar Peralta-Rodriquez: 37 months in prison
  • Neurby Celenia Diaz: 72 months in prison
  • Antonio Ubaldo Mendez-Lopez: 46 months in prison
  • Cesar Aguilar-Rebollar: 21 months in prison
  • Sylvia Barrera: 27 months in prison
  • David Reyes: 18 months in prison
  • Antonio Ramirez-Catalan: 48 months in prison
  • Jose Ricardo Vazquez-Garcia: 36 months in prison
  • Daniel Ribon-Gonzalez: Fugitive
  • Marisol Ferreriras: 13 months in prison
  • Paresh Patel: Seven months in prison
  • Sergio Valazquez Martinez: 12 months in prison
  • Fernando Pelayo Silverio: 18 months in prison
  • Arturo Salquil-Gomez: 12 months in prison
  • Jose Hernandez Trujillo: 25 months in prison
  • Silvstre Aguilar Sayago: 27 months in prison
  • Rodolfo Hernandez Guiterrez: 23 months in prison
  • Alex Martinez Moncon: 22 months in prison