SAVANNAH, Ga. — A man convicted of acting as a pimp for women forced into prostitution was sentenced to life in federal prison Wednesday for his role in what prosecutors called a sex trafficking ring that traded women like slaves between Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas.
Joaquin Mendez-Hernandez, a Mexican national who operated out of Savannah, was a key figure among 25 defendants indicted in the case last year. A U.S. District Court judge sentenced him five months after he pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiring with others to engage in sex trafficking.
Prosecutors said Mendez-Hernandez and his partners would bring women into the U.S. from Mexico and other countries and force them to have sex with 30 or more men each day for $25 apiece. They built a network that largely catered to Latino immigrants, meaning prostitutes were rotated not just between larger cities such as Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C., but also in small farm communities such as Bonaire, Ga.
Coordinators including Mendez-Hernandez, 35, would swap cellphone photos of the women to decide which ones they wanted brought to them, prosecutors said.
"They enslaved women, they demeaned them and they dehumanized them," Tania Groover, the lead federal prosecutor in the case, told the judge during a sentencing hearing Wednesday. "...Sometimes they were taken to a crop field. Sometimes the men would just line up and wait for their turn, waiting and watching while everything took place."
Mendez-Hernandez received the harshest sentence of any of the 23 defendants who have pleaded guilty in the case. The others received prison terms ranging from seven months to 20 years. Two suspects who were charged remain at large.
At least six women accused Mendez-Hernandez of acting as their pimp. They said he would drive them to homes and hotel rooms to have sex with multiple men and then take most of the money they earned. Prosecutors said he earned enough to send $1,500 a week back to his family in Mexico.