Men Accused Of Smuggling Indian Family Who Froze to Death on US-Canada Border Plead Not Guilty – News18

Curated By: Rohit
Last Updated: March 28, 2024, 15:28 IST
Minnesota, US
A man arrested in Chicago was allegedly involved in smuggling the Patel family. They were found frozen to death near the U.S. border in Manitoba on Jan. 19, 2022. (Vaishali Patel/Facebook)
A man accused of helping smuggle people across the US-Canada border into the state of Minnesota, including four members of an Indian family from Gujarat, who froze to death in 2022, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to human smuggling.
Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel, 28, entered his plea during a brief teleconference with US Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois of Duluth. US authorities said Steven Shand, 49, was hired by Patel to drive the Indian nationals from the Canadian border to the Chicago area.
Shand, of Deltona, Florida, pleaded not guilty during the same hearing to four counts contained in an updated indictment against them that was unsealed last week. Shand was arrested and charged with human smuggling two years ago. He remains free on his own recognizance.
READ MORE Indian-Origin Man Held In Chicago Over Death of Gujarati Family Found Frozen Near US-Canada Border
This development comes as Patel, who goes by the alias “Dirty Harry,” remains in federal custody. According to a court document, it was revealed that Patel was refused a US visa at least five times, including four at US consulates in India and once at the US consulate in Ottawa, Canada. He is in the US illegally, the agent said. Patel’s name didn’t emerge until he was arrested in Chicago last month on a previously sealed warrant issued last September.
Unsealed court papers connect Patel with a human trafficking group based in the northwest Indian state of Gujarat. The group allegedly would get Indian nationals into Canada on student visas, then move them on to the Chicago area. The migrants would work for substandard wages at Indian restaurants while they paid off debt to the smugglers, according to the court documents.
US prosecutors allege Shand was driving a rented 15-passenger van when it was stopped by the US Border Patrol in Minnesota just south of the Canadian border on Jan. 19, 2022. Inside the van were two Indians from Gujarat who had entered the US illegally, while five others were spotted walking nearby. According to court documents, they told officers they’d been walking for more than 11 hours in temperatures well below zero Fahrenheit (-34 Celsius). One person was hospitalised with severe cold-related injuries.
A man with the group told authorities he paid the equivalent of about $87,000 to get smuggled into the US. He also had a backpack that contained children’s clothes and a diaper, but there were no children in the group. The man told authorities he was carrying the items for a family of four with a small child, all of whom had become separated from his group during the night. Later that day, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found the four dead, just 10 meters from the border near Emerson, Manitoba.
According to a series of messages sent via WhatsApp, Shand told Patel, “Make sure everyone is dressed for the blizzard conditions please.” Patel replied, “Done.” Then Shand remarked, “We not losing any money.” The victims were identified as Jagdish Patel, 39; his wife, Vaishaliben, 34; their 11-year-old daughter, Vihangi; and 3-year-old son Dharmik, all from the village of Dingucha in Gujarat. Jagdish Patel and his wife were educated and had worked as teachers, but sought a better life in the US, according to their relatives.
The victims faced not only bitter cold, but also flat, open fields; large snowdrifts and complete darkness, the Mounted Police have said. They were wearing winter clothing, but it wasn’t enough to save them. A court filing unsealed last month said Shand told investigators he first met Harshkumar Patel, whom he also knew by the nickname “Dirty Harry,” at a gaming establishment Patel managed in Orange City, Florida.
Shand said Patel originally tried to recruit him to pick up Indian nationals who were illegally crossing the US-Canada border in New York. Shand said he declined, but agreed to pick up others in Minnesota. Shand said Patel paid him about $25,000 altogether for five trips to the border in December 2021 and January 2022. He said he dropped off his passengers at an Indian supermarket in Chicago, a residence in a wealthy part of the Chicago area, and at a suburban Chicago motel.
(With AP inputs)


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