3 Charged Human Smuggling, Forced Labor

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BOSTON (AP) — Three members of the same family were charged in what federal prosecutors say was a scheme to smuggle Brazilian immigrants into the U.S. to work at two Massachusetts restaurants where they were forced to work long hours and threatened with harm.

Jesse James Moraes, 65, and his son Hugo Giovanni Moraes, 43, were charged in a superseding indictment with forced labor and attempted forced labor, according to a statement Tuesday from the U.S. attorney’s office. They are the owners of Taste of Brazil-Tudo Na Brasa and The Dog House Bar and Grill in the Boston suburb of Woburn.

Chelbe Willams Moraes, 62, who lives in Brazil and is the brother of Jesse Moraes, was charged with labor trafficking, attempted labor trafficking and money laundering conspiracy, prosecutors said.

“Individuals seeking to come to the United States for a better life to benefit themselves and their families were allegedly taken advantage of and deceived,” U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins said in a statement. “We allege that these defendants endangered the victims they smuggled and compelled them to work through threats of violence and other serious harm.”

Hugo Moraes has worked for many years to build a successful business, his attorney Paul V. Kelly said in an email Wednesday.

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“We are confident that the evidence in this case will demonstrate that Mr. Moraes had no involvement in any ‘human smuggling’ or ‘forced labor’ activities or any effort to knowingly evade the law,” Kelly said.

An email seeking comment was left with an attorney for Jesse Moraes. No attorney for Chelbe Moraes was listed in court records.

Prosecutors say Chelbe Moraes smuggled migrants from Brazil into the U.S. for fees of up to $22,000. Jesse Moraes and Hugo Moraes then recruited those people to work in their restaurants and live in apartments they owned, authorities said.

The workers, promised a better life than they had in Brazil, were forced to work long hours performing difficult manual labor and had their wages withheld until they paid off their smuggling debts, prosecutors said. The workers were allegedly subjected to threats of violence, financial harm and deportation to keep them in line and prevent them from quitting.

The defendants are also accused of providing or offering to provide fake documentation to the workers to support asylum claims or claims of work authorization.

The charges came just about a week after federal prosecutors announced forced labor charges against the owner of two Boston pizza shops who allegedly mistreated employees who were in the U.S. illegally.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

3 Charged Human Smuggling, Forced Labor

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