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April 8, 2023


By Kerry Breen

/ CBS News

Federal agents search Woburn restaurants, homes in ‘human smuggling investigation’

Federal agents search Woburn restaurants, homes in ‘human smuggling investigation’


New charges have been announced against three men, including a Boston father and son, who authorities had alleged used forced labor and human smuggling at their Massachusetts restaurants. 

Jesse James Moraes, 65, and Hugo Giovanni Moraes, 43, are of Woburn, Massachusetts, and operated two restaurants: The Dog House Bar & Grill and Taste of Brazil. Jesse Moraes’ brother and Hugo Moraes’ uncle, Chelbe Williams Moraes, 62, was also charged. Chelbe Moraes lives in Brazil. 

Charging documents allege that the three men targeted and smuggled migrants from Brazil into the United States, charging those migrants between $18,000 to $22,000. Chelbe Moraes targeted migrants in Brazil, and once they were in the United States, Jesse and Hugo Moraes recruited them to work in their Woburn, Massachusetts, restaurants. The three men allegedly gave the migrants fake documents to support claims of asylum or work authorization. 

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The Dog House Bar & Grill in Woburn.

CBS Boston

Jesse and Hugo Moraes also arranged for the victims to live in apartments they owned or controlled. The charging documents allege that the pair withheld wages from the victims to pay off smuggling debts, forced them to work long hours performing difficult manual labor, and subjected the victims to threats of serious physical and emotional harm. The victims were also threatened with deportation. These threats were meant to keep them from quitting or demanding better pay, authorities alleged. 

According to CBS Boston, a Taste of Brazil worker told investigators that they were paid only $3 an hour, received no tips, and had to work 14 hours a day with no time off. 

 The three men are charged “in a superseding indictment with forced labor conspiracy,” federal officials said in a news release announcing the charges. Jesse and Hugo Moraes were charged with forced labor and attempted forced labor. Jesse Moraes was also charged with labor trafficking, attempted labor trafficking and money laundering conspiracy. 

“This case is another stark example of the human trafficking that’s happening every single day in our country and our Commonwealth and the heinous lengths some employers go to in the pursuit of profit,” said U.S. Attorney Rachael S. Rollins in a news release announcing the charges. “It is alleged that these defendants conspired to take advantage of the American dream. … The victims in this case are real people with families who have taken on immeasurable risk to come to the United States, only to be met with threats of violence and oppression.”

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A federal agent inside a Woburn restaurant. 

CBS Boston

These are not the first charges faced by the three men. In October, the relatives were charged with “encouraging and inducing, and conspiring to encourage and induce, an alien to come to, enter and reside in the United States for the purpose of commercial advantage or private financial gain, knowing and in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, and residence is or will be in violation of law,” federal officials said. Chelbe Moraes has also been charged with money laundering and conspiracy. 

CBS Boston reported that in 2022, The Dog House Bar & Grill and Taste of Brazil were raided by authorities. Investigators had executed federal search and arrest warrants at the businesses and at several residences, according to a spokesperson from the Department of Homeland Security. 

The charges carry possible sentences of both jail time and significant fines. The men were charged as part of a joint investigation between local and federal authorities. 

“Labor traffickers treat humans like commodities, profiting from the mistreatment of their workforce and using force, fraud, or coercion to push people to work and make it difficult or impossible to leave,”  said Michael J. Krol, acting special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in New England. “Today’s superseding indictment alleges that Moraes and his conspirators smuggled individuals into the United States, charging them tens of thousands of dollars only to withhold wages to ostensibly pay back their smuggling debt.”

Kerry Breen

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Kerry Breen is a news editor and reporter for CBS News. Her reporting focuses on current events, breaking news and substance use.

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