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Indian-origin man arrested in connection with death of Gujarati family attempting to illegally enter US in 2022

Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel has been arrested by authorities from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and will appear for a detention hearing on February 28.
Last Updated 26 February 2024, 07:58 IST

New York: An Indian-origin man has been arrested in Chicago in connection with an investigation into a January 2022 human smuggling incident in which a family of four from Gujarat, including two children, was found frozen to death while attempting to enter the US from Canada illegally.

Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel has been arrested by authorities from Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and will appear for a detention hearing on February 28, a report in The Chicago Tribune said last week.

Patel, also known as ‘Dirty Harry’, ‘Param Singh’ and ‘Haresh Rameshlal Patel’, has been charged with the criminal offence of “transportation of illegal alien and conspiracy to bring and attempt to bring an illegal alien to the United States”.

Court documents, affidavit and criminal complaint filed in the case against Patel in the US District Court for the District of Minnesota provide detailed information about Patel’s involvement in the human smuggling conspiracy.

The affidavit relates to the investigation concerning the human smuggling event on January 19, 2022, in which four family members — Jagdish Patel, 39, Vaishaliben Patel, 37, Vihangi Patel, 11, and Dharmik Patel, 3 — were found frozen to death near Emerson, Manitoba, approximately 12 metres from the Canada/US border while attempting to enter America illegally.

After the bodies were recovered, border patrol authorities arrested Steve Shand, 47, on January 19 for transporting two other Indian nationals.

The affidavit described the January 2022 incident as “an unsuccessful attempt by a human smuggling organisation” to smuggle the Patel family into the US from Canada.

“More specifically, this affidavit concerns the involvement of one member of that organisation, a man named Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel in the US,” it said.

The complaint provides details of communication between Harshkumar Patel and Shand concerning the human smuggling conspiracy. Shand has said that Patel was the manager of a “gambling establishment” in Florida.

Through phone messages, Shand and Patel communicated about “arrangements for rental cars, hotels, and payments to Shand”. The two also discussed “the severe weather in North Dakota and Minnesota on January 19, 2022”. In one message, Patel told Shand to “make sure everyone is dressed for the blizzard conditions please”.

They also discussed the time Shand should travel to the border to pick up the Indian nationals. Pickup coordinates were relayed to Shand by Patel, court documents show.

The complaint states that “Patel was an Indian national whose real name was Harshkumar Patel, and that he lived in Florida….he was part of an organised human smuggling group that facilitated illegal entry of Indian nationals into the United States”, the affidavit said.

Shand has told Homeland Security officials that Patel “recruited him to transport illegal aliens from the US/Canadian border in Minnesota to the Chicago area for money”.

“Shand described five total trips he had made to the international border in Minnesota between December 2021 and January 2022, to transport Indian nationals, including the January 19, 2022 trip during which he was arrested,” the affidavit added.

“Shand said he dropped off the first of his loads at a supermarket in Chicago called Patel Brothers on or about December 12, 2021. His second load was dropped off at a private residence in what Shand described as a wealthy part of the Chicago area on or about December 22, 2021. His subsequent two loads were dropped off at the Presidential Inn and Suites motel in Matteson, Illinois on or about December 31, 2021 and January 12, 2022," it added.

Court documents said that Patel had been refused a US visa on at least five different occasions between 2014 and 2016. The date of Patel's first entry into the US appears to be July 21, 2016.

The affidavit also provides details of a related investigation into the smuggling of Indian nationals. It said that an investigation was initiated in 2018 into a “human smuggling organisation based in the state of Gujarat, India” that was responsible for smuggling Indian nationals into the US.

“A man named Rajinder Singh was suspected of being the main facilitator in the United States for the group,” it said.

Singh had identified individuals in Canada who were responsible for transporting the smuggled Indian nationals within Canada to the US border for illegal entry.

“One of the individuals Singh identified in Canada was a man named Fenilkumar Patel. Singh stated that Fenilkumar Patel arranged the trip for the family that died in Manitoba, Canada on January 19, 2022,” the affidavit said.

Singh also said that Fenilkumar Patel currently resides in Toronto. Singh added that once the Indian nationals reach their final destinations in the US, commonly Chicago, they work until they have paid off their debt to the smuggling organisation.

Previous information discovered during the investigations indicated that “Indian nationals smuggled by the Gujarat human smuggling group, work in a chain of restaurants in Chicago”. “The restaurants were identified and are owned by a man from India who has also been identified,” the affidavit said.

The affidavit further states that a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) official in Delhi had attended a meeting with the Gujarat Police in February 2022.

“The Gujarat Police stated that Jagdishkumar Patel (the father of the family of four that died on January 19, 2022) was associated with the restaurant owner in Chicago on social media and through financial transactions. The Gujarat Police stated they suspected the restaurant owner in Chicago facilitates the smuggling of Indian nationals to work in his restaurants for sub-standard wages and as a way to pay off debt,” the affidavit said.

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(Published 26 February 2024, 07:58 IST)

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