By Gabriel Stargardter
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - An alleged Brazilian people smuggler, profiled by Reuters last year, has been charged with human smuggling in the United States along with his brother and nephew, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts said on Tuesday.
Chelbe Moraes was arrested in Paraguay in 2021 for allegedly absconding there with his young daughter, for which he is now on trial in Brazil. After his arrest, Brazil's Federal Police began to suspect he was a human smuggler, one of a number who were helping drive record arrests of Brazilians on the southern U.S. border.
The Federal Police accused him of charging Brazilians without valid U.S. visas around $20,000 each to enter the United States via Mexico, using an international network of corrupt police and officials as well as U.S-based family members.
At the time of the story's publication in October last year, Moraes denied to Reuters that he was a human smuggler, saying he ran a legitimate consultancy advising people on U.S. asylum claims. He said he charged those who met U.S. criteria up to 100,000 reais to help them migrate.
On Tuesday, federal prosecutors in Massachusetts unsealed a four-count indictment against Moraes. They also announced the arrest of his brother, Jesse James Moraes, and his nephew, Hugo Giovanni Moraes, in the city of Woburn, where they own two restaurants: Taste of Brazil - Tudo No Brasa and The Dog House.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts, the three Moraes men allegedly "smuggled individuals from Brazil into the United States for a fee of approximately $18,000 - $22,000."
Jesse and Hugo Moraes then allegedly "employed them in their restaurants in Woburn, withholding their wages in order to pay off their smuggling debts." Additionally, the statement said, they "allegedly gave or offered to give fake documentation to the individuals in order to support asylum claims or obtain work authorization."
Chelbe Moraes declined to comment about the U.S. charges.
Lawyers for Jesse James Moraes and Hugo Giovanni Moraes did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Reached for comment last year, Jesse James Moraes denied he worked with his brother to bring Brazilians illegally to the United States. He also denied that he employed his brother's clients in his restaurants.
(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)