Published: Jan 17, 2013 2:32 PM EST
Updated: Jan 17, 2013 6:06 PM EST

SAVANNAH, Ga. — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the results of a lengthy investigation, called Operation Dark Night, into a sex trafficking ring operating in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. The investigation, which was led by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), led to a takedown yesterday in which authorities made 13 criminal arrests and 44 administrative arrests tied to the investigation, as well as the rescue of as many as 11 victims.

According to the indictment, Joaquin Mendez-Hernandez, aka El Flaco, conspired with each of the other defendants to transport people across interstate boundaries to engage in prostitution. In addition, Mendez-Hernandez allegedly conspired with at least three others to entice 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 allegedly threatened and forced to commit acts of prostitution at numerous locations in Savannah and throughout the Southeast. In one such instance identified in the indictment, Mendez-Hernandez is alleged to have 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. 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.