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Smuggling suspect arrested 2 years after a family froze to death trying to cross the U.S.-Canada border

Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel was charged with human smuggling. He is accused of recruiting a driver to take migrants to the Chicago area.
Road signage outside of Emerson, Manitoba.
Road signs outside Emerson, Manitoba, in 2022.John Woods / AP file

Federal authorities arrested a man they said was involved in a human smuggling operation that resulted in two Indian migrants and their children freezing to death as they tried to illegally cross the U.S.-Canada border.

Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel was arrested Wednesday on human smuggling charges, court records show. He is accused of recruiting another man, Steve Anthony Shand, to drive migrants to the Chicago area after they crossed into Minnesota.

Shand was arrested on Jan. 19, 2022, near the border, about 7 miles northeast of St. Vincent, Minnesota, with two migrants in his 15-passenger van. Last year, he pleaded not guilty to two federal counts of human smuggling.

Shand told authorities that Patel recruited him to transport Indian nationals who illegally crossed the border into Minnesota, according to a criminal affidavit for Patel. Shand said that Patel had initially asked him to pick up migrants who crossed into New York but that Shand said no.

Shand told authorities that he had made five trips from December 2021 to January 2022, the affidavit says. Patel is alleged to have paid him anywhere from $3,500 to $8,000 in cash after every smuggling event.

Shand said he believed he had been paid a total of about $25,000, according to the affidavit.

Alleged messages between Patel and Shand discussing the illegal smuggling were included in the court documents. In a message on Jan. 19, 2022, Shand asked Patel to "make sure everyone is dressed for the blizzard conditions please."

"Done," Patel responded before he shared the location where Shand was to meet the group, according to the documents.

The affidavit says that on the day of the smuggling incident, it was extremely cold with blizzardlike conditions.

It's not clear what happened. Shand was arrested with only two of the migrants in his van. Five others were found alive the day Shand was arrested about a quarter-mile south of the border, a criminal complaint for Shand says. One of the five survivors was carrying a backpack that he said belonged to another family that was with the group, authorities said.

The family had become separated from the group and were later found dead. Authorities identified them as Jagdish Patel, 39; Vaishaliben Patel, 37; and their children, Vihangi, 11, and Dharmik, 3. It's not clear whether they are related to the defendant.

An attorney for Patel did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Federal authorities believe he entered the U.S. illegally in 2018 after he had been repeatedly denied a visa, according to the complaint.