Father, son arrested in alleged human smuggling operation after authorities raid Woburn restaurants

WOBURN, Mass. — A father and son are facing criminal charges in connection with a human smuggling operation after authorities raided a pair of restaurants that they own in Woburn on Tuesday morning, officials said.

Federal and local officials with Homeland Security, the Department of Labor, and Woburn police executed federal search and arrest warrants in the Main Street area, according to a spokesperson for Homeland Security Investigations.

Jesse James Moraes, 64, and his son, 42-year-old Hugo Giovanni Moraes, both of Woburn, were arrested on charges including encouraging and inducing an alien to come to, enter, and reside in the United States for financial gain, and conspiracy to commit and aiding and abetting the previous acts, according to Department of Justice documents.

Video captured by a Boston 25 photographer showed agents inside the The Dog House Bar & Grill and Taste of Brazil. During the raids, agent were spotted seizing boxes of evidence and multiple computer towers.

Jesse and Hugo operate the two eateries and employed migrants who were smuggled in from Brazil, paying them partly in cash and well below the minimum wage, investigators allege in the documents. They are also accused of withholding some their pay to cover smuggling debt, their rent, and utilities.

Chelbe Moraes, Jesse’s brother and Hugo’s uncle, was indicted in July 2021 on charges he served as the “the boss” or “jefe” of the family smuggling operation. Chelbe is currently living in Brazil, where officials say they have no plans to extradite him to face those charges.

Chelbe is accused of smuggling the migrants into the United States for a fee of between $18,000 to $22,000. Marcos Chacon, 29, also of Woburn, allegedly sold fake documentation to the individuals at the request of the Moraes family in order to support asylum claims or obtain work authorization.

Many of the smuggled migrants who worked at the restaurants were living in a Woburn home owned by “someone who is related by marriage” to Hugo, investigators noted, citing records from the city’s assessor’s database.

Some of the workers are said to have informed investigators that they were told that the “work they did at the restaurant went toward their monthly rent.”

In addition to speaking with multiple witnesses and migrants, investigators were able to intercept incriminating texts and voice recordings, leading to charges against Jesse, Hugo, Chelbe, and Chacon.

Jesse and Hugo have since appeared in U.S. District Court. They were detained pending a detention hearing.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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