Canada

Man accused of smuggling Indian family that died near Canada-U.S. border arrested in Chicago

U.S. authorities have arrested a man in connection with the deaths of an Indian family of four who froze to death near Manitoba’s southern border with the United States two years ago.

Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel — also known as Dirty Harry, according to officials who have identified five aliases — has been charged in U.S. federal court in the District of Minnesota for transportation of an illegal alien and conspiracy.

The Patel family (of no relation) died of exposure on Jan. 19, 2022, while attempting to cross illegally into Minnesota near Emerson, Man. The frozen bodies of 39-year-old Jagdish Patel, his 37-year-old wife, Vaishali, their 11-year -old daughter, Vihangi, and three-year-old son, Dharmik, were found just 12 metres from the U.S. border.

Court documents allege Harshkumar Patel managed a gambling establishment in Florida and recruited alleged smuggler Steve Shand, another Florida resident who is already awaiting trial in federal court in Minnesota for transporting illegal migrants. 

New court records reveal that Steve Shand, accused of human smuggling after seven people were picked up after crossing the border into the U.S., was allegedly exchanging text messages with a man known as Dirty Harry in the hours before an Indian family was found frozen to death near the border. (Steve Shand/Facebook)

On the morning of Jan. 19, 2022, U.S. border patrol agents arrested Shand and two migrants in a rented 15-seater passenger van on a snowy highway in Minnesota, just south of the Canadian border near Emerson, Man. Five other migrants were caught by the border patrol walking down the same highway shortly after.

The latest charges for Harshkumar Patel, contained in a September 2023 arrest warrant and supporting affidavit unsealed Thursday, reveal new details about the night the Patel family died, including cellphone texts Harshkumar Patel shared with Shand that investigators say show how he facilitated the smuggling of the Patel family on the U.S. side of the border.

New text messages revealed 

“Make sure everyone is dressed for the blizzard,” Shand texted Harshkumar Patel on the evening of Jan. 18 — the day before the family was found dead, according to court records. 

Harshkumar Patel texted back less than a minute later: “Done.”

“We not losing any money,” Shand immediately replied. 

screenshot of U.S. affidavit showing text messages
WhatsApp messages obtained by U.S. investigators allegedly show Harshkumar Patel messaging Steve Shand as part of a smuggling operation in the hours before an Indian family was found dead near the Canada-U.S. border in Manitoba. (U.S. District Court Document)

U.S. authorities also allege that Harshkumar Patel provided Shand with GPS coordinates to a pick-up spot near the U.S.-Canada border and two phone numbers of contacts in Canada.

During a March 9, 2022, interview with a U.S. Homeland Security investigator, “Shand described five total trips he had made to the international border in Minnesota in December 2021 and January 2022 to transport Indian nationals.”

He further told investigators that “he has made a total of approximately $25,000 US in smuggling proceeds” working for Harshkumar Patel.

For the Jan. 18-19, 2023, smuggling incident alone, the court documents allege Shand was paid $2,900 US in cash from Harshkumar Patel up front and then paid another $5,000 US in cash after his release.

Another alleged smuggler implicated

In addition to the allegations against Harshkumar Patel, the new affidavit also contains information linking another alleged smuggler to the family’s death

In January, a Fifth Estate investigation revealed that a man Indian police accused of helping transport the family was living in the Toronto area.

Fenil Patel is facing charges in the Indian state of Gujarat of culpable homicide and human smuggling for his alleged role in the death of the Patel family. (Fenil Patel is also not related to the Patel family, as it is a common name in the Indian state of Gujarat.)

WATCH | See what happens when Fenil Patel is questioned outside his Toronto-area home: 

The Fifth Estate questions Fenil Patel

Steven D’Souza, host of The Fifth Estate, questions Fenil Patel over allegations from Indian police that he was one of the smugglers responsible for transporting the Patel family (no relation) to the Canada-U.S. border in January 2022.

According to the affidavit, convicted human smuggler Rajinder Pal Singh identified Fenil Patel during an interview with Homeland Security investigators after his arrest as one of the people involved, saying he arranged the trip for the family that died. 

“Singh stated that [Fenil] Patel arranged the trip for the family that died in Manitoba, Canada, on Jan. 19, 2022. Singh stated that [Fenil] Patel currently resides in Toronto, Canada,” according to the affidavit.

This also confirms an earlier Fifth Estate report that first linked Rajinder Pal Singh to the Patel family case. Singh was found guilty of human smuggling last May and sentenced to 45 months in U.S. federal prison

Following Singh’s arrest in May 2022 in Washington state, The Fifth Estate reported that U.S. investigators had surveillance of Singh discussing possibly moving migrants through Manitoba. The wiretapped conversations took place in January 2022 around the same time the Patel family was being moved from the Greater Toronto Area to the remote border area south of Winnipeg.

New suspect was in Canada

According to the latest affidavit, Harshkumar Patel was once in Canadian custody in 2018, held by the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA).

Harshkumar Patel was released by the CBSA, with the expectation that he would cross into the U.S. illegally as many migrants released along the northern border do. It’s not clear when he re-entered the U.S.

  • Watch the full documentary, “Search for the Smugglers,” from The Fifth Estate on YouTube or CBC Gem.

Court documents say Harshkumar Patel tried and failed four times to obtain a student visa to the U.S. Applying from various consulates in India, Harshkumar Patel tried to convince consular officials he wanted to study in the U.S, but his application was not deemed credible. 

In 2016, Harshkumar Patel was in Canada and went to the U.S. Consulate in Ottawa attempting to get a visitor visa to go to New York. He claimed to be a business management student at St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont.

Harshkumar Patel was denied a U.S. visa for the fifth time. Investigators believe he then crossed into the U.S. illegally three months later and may have returned to Canada again sometime in 2018, when he ended up in CBSA custody.

Patel’s attorney Michael Leonard was not immediately available for comment.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Harshkumar Patel was arrested at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and made a brief appearance in court Thursday. He has a detention hearing set for Feb. 28.

Shand’s long-delayed jury trial is scheduled to start March 25 in Fergus Falls, Minn.

If you have a tip related to this story, please contact:

Scott Anderson at scott.anderson@cbc.ca 

Steven D’Souza at steven.dsouza@cbc.ca

See also  Accused killer of London, Ont., Muslim family testifies he hated 'religious fanatic' mom and hid unhappiness

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