New indictment adds 'gruesome details' in Collier-to-N.C. sex trafficking ring

William DeShazer/Staff
The apartment of Antonio Mendez-Lopez who was arrested on sex trafficking charges in Golden Gate on Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. The arrest is part of a 2-year probe by the feds involving a trafficking ring from Naples to North Carolina.

Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER // Buy this photo

William DeShazer/Staff The apartment of Antonio Mendez-Lopez who was arrested on sex trafficking charges in Golden Gate on Wednesday Jan. 16, 2013. The arrest is part of a 2-year probe by the feds involving a trafficking ring from Naples to North Carolina.

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Antonio Mendez-Lopez

Antonio Mendez-Lopez

— Federal investigators released a new indictment Friday in a multi-state sex trafficking ring, formally charging a Collier County man and doubling the number of accused conspirators.

Twenty-five people are now implicated in the organized crime ring dismantled last month in a dragnet from Florida to North Carolina dubbed "Operation Dark Night."

That includes Antonio Mendez-Lopez, 45, whom special agents arrested outside his Golden Gate home in January as part of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation.

Mendez-Lopez is accused of participating in a Savannah, Ga.-based organization that brought undocumented women from abroad into the U.S. for prostitution, according to court documents.

New information released by investigators Friday revealed an even darker side to the investigation: members of the organization held several victims' children hostage in Mexico to force the women into prostitution.

"The superseding indictment adds even more gruesome details to the allegations of an already reprehensible human trafficking ring operating within our very own communities. The U.S. Attorney's Office and our law enforcement partners will not stop until all of those responsible are brought to justice," U.S. Attorney Edward Tarver of Georgia said in a written statement.

A U.S. District Court judge in Fort Myers determined last month there was probable cause to move Mendez-Lopez's case in Georgia forward after the Guatemala native was taken into custody in Southwest Florida during the first round of arrests.

Friday's indictment formalizes the two charges against him related to transporting a woman for prostitution, which carry a maximum 15-year sentence.

It wasn't immediately clear if any of the accused conspirators newly named in Friday's updated indictment have Southwest Florida ties.

Other alleged members of the crime ring face up to life in prison for their roles at the top of the organization, orchestrating a network of pimps who prostituted out at least 11 sex trafficking victims.

Some of the women were forced to have sex with dozens of johns a day, and were shuttled weekly between cities in the southeastern U.S.

Federal investigators stressed that the investigation is ongoing and the extent of the case could expand.

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