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2 men charged in deaths of migrant family on Canada-U.S. border

Florida resident Harshkumar Patel now faces multiple charges in the deaths of an Indian family who froze to death crossing the Canada-U.S. border in January 2022.  (Sherburne County Sheriff - image credit)
Florida resident Harshkumar Patel now faces multiple charges in the deaths of an Indian family who froze to death crossing the Canada-U.S. border in January 2022. (Sherburne County Sheriff - image credit)

U.S. federal prosecutors have indicted two men in connection with the deaths of an Indian migrant family over two years ago in Manitoba, along the U.S.-Canada border.

Steve Shand of Deltona, Fla., was named Thursday in a superseding indictment filed in U.S. District Court, District of Minnesota against Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel, an Indian citizen residing in Florida, according to court documents.

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 border near Emerson, Man., on the morning of Jan. 19, 2022. Five other migrants were caught walking down the same highway shortly after.

Later that same day 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 in Canada just 12 metres from the U.S. border. They had died of exposure after being dropped at the border during a blinding snowstorm and –35 C temperatures.

Harshkumar Patel (no relation to the deceased) faces seven counts, including conspiracy to transport aliens causing serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy, aiding and abetting the transport of aliens, transportation of aliens causing serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy, and transportation of aliens for the purpose of commercial advantage and private financial gain.

Shand was also indicted Thursday on four of those charges.

Steve Shand/Facebook
Steve Shand/Facebook

He was previously indicted in February 2022 on two counts of human smuggling charges related to the migrants found in the van.

Patel was arrested last month at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. An affidavit by a U.S. Homeland Security investigator in support of the arrest alleges Patel recruited and paid Shand to meet and transport the migrants once they crossed the border into the U.S.

After his arrest in Chicago, he was transferred to Minnesota where he is being detained in a Sherburne County jail. A date for Patel's arraignment has not been set.

The Fifth Estate has obtained the first known photograph, a mugshot, of Patel, who according to investigators also known as "Dirty Harry" and four other aliases.

Patel is accused of co-ordinating the smuggling operation with Shand on the American side, while connecting him with others in Canada.

Court documents allege Patel managed a gambling establishment in Florida. It's also alleged Patel and Shand communicated via Whatsapp about rental cars, hotels and payments for Shand. U.S. investigators obtained call logs showing the two communicated 210 times between September 2021 and Jan. 21, 2022.

U.S. authorities say Patel provided Shand with GPS co-ordinates for a pick-up spot near the border and two phone numbers of contacts in Canada.

Vaishali Patel/Facebook
Vaishali Patel/Facebook

'We not losing any money'

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

Patel texted back less than a minute later: "Done."

"We not losing any money," Shand immediately replied.

Investigators allege the Jan. 19 pickup was the fifth trip Shand had made to the border in that area, with the first being sometime around Dec. 12, 2021.

During the first four trips, it's alleged Shand drove Indian migrants to the Chicago area, dropping them off at a supermarket, a private residence and a motel.

WATCH | The Fifth Estate: Search for the Smugglers:

Shand told investigators he'd made a "total of approximately $25,000 US," working for Patel, according to the indictment.

For the Jan. 18-19 incident alone, the court documents allege he was paid $2,900 US in cash from Patel up front and another $5,000 US in cash after Shand was released from jail.

Shand remains out on bail, while Patel is in custody.

Lawyers for Patel and Shand did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication.

When contacted by The Fifth Estate, the district attorney's office in Minnesota did not offer any comment on the superseding indictment.

The two men represent the only arrests in North America directly related to the Patel family deaths. There have been three arrests in India but to date, no one in Canada is facing charges.

The Fifth Estate located one man, Fenil Patel (again, no relation to the victims), that Indian police allege was part of the smuggling network living just outside Toronto, but so far Canadian authorities have not publicly commented on the allegations against him.

Fenil Patel did not respond to a number of attempts to interview him earlier this year. When a Fifth Estate crew questioned him in front of his home, he turned and walked inside without any response.

Shand is awaiting a long-delayed trial. It was set to begin Monday in Fergus Falls, Minn., but was postponed again Friday and has not been rescheduled.