Man accused of human smuggling in deaths of Indian family during blizzard near Minnesota-Canada border

Team Parvasi – Inside

Man accused of human smuggling in deaths of Indian family during blizzard near Minnesota-Canada border
Toronto: Federal agents arrested a 28-year-old man in Chicago last week in connection with a human smuggling operation that left an Indian migrant family frozen to death along the Minnesota-Canadian border in 2022.

Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel, an Indian national, was charged with two counts of illegally transporting non-citizens into the United States, according to federal court records unsealed Thursday. A warrant was issued for his arrest last September, when authorities tied Patel to a covert smuggling operation focused on Minnesota’s northern border.

Patel allegedly organized the Jan. 19, 2022, trip in which a family of four from Gujarat, India, became separated from the group in a blizzard.

Jagdish Patel, 39; his wife, Vaishaliben Patel, 37; and their children, Vihangi, 11, and Dharmik, 3, perished in the snow on the Canadian side, about 6 miles east of Emerson, Manitoba. They were trying to cross into the U.S. on a night when the temperature dipped to 10 degrees below zero. It’s not clear whether they were related to the suspect.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent stopped a 15-passenger van in a rural area south of the border between Lancaster, Minn., and Pembina, N.D., and found two unauthorized Indian nationals and Floridian Steve Shand inside.

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Five more survivors were discovered on foot nearby; one carried children’s clothing, diapers and toys in a backpack. Authorities began a search and found the bodies of the Patel family about four hours later.

Shand was indicted for his alleged role in the deaths in February 2022. A forensic search of his cellphones revealed that he and Patel had communicated hundreds of times to coordinate logistics for trafficking people over the international border, according to a 26-page complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Investigators found a message that Shand sent to Patel on the morning of Jan. 19, in which he cautioned: “Make sure everyone is dressed for blizzard conditions please.”

Shand told authorities that Patel had paid him an estimated $25,000 for five previous smuggling trips from Minnesota to Chicago, the complaint says. When shown a picture of Patel, Shand identified him as “Harry,” one of Patel’s known aliases.

Patel has been refused a U.S. visa at least five times, court records show, after consulate officers deemed his intentions to study in America “not credible.” Federal agents believe he illegally entered the U.S. in 2018.

Patel’s attorney, Michael Leonard, confirmed to the Chicago Tribune that Patel was arrested last week while picking up an acquaintance at O’Hare International Airport. Leonard could not be immediately reached for comment.

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