Grand jury indicts second man in freezing death of Indian migrants

A family photo of four
Jagdish Patel, Vaishaliben Patel, Vihangi Patel, and Dharmik Patel were found dead near the U.S.-Canada border during a blizzard.
Courtesy of Royal Canadian Mounted Police

A federal grand jury has indicted a second man on human smuggling charges in connection with the death of a family who succumbed to exposure while trying to cross into Minnesota from Canada in subzero weather.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police found the bodies of Jagdish and Vaishaliben Patel and their children Vihangi, 11, and Dharmik, 3, on January 19, 2022, near the international border in Emerson, Manitoba.

Steve Anthony Shand, 49, was initially charged in 2022. This week a grand jury indicted him on additional human smuggling counts. The indictment also charges a second defendant, Harshkumar Patel, 28, an Indian national who is in the U.S. illegally and had been living in Florida.

The U.S. Border Patrol arrested Shand, of Deltona, Fla., after allegedly finding him a mile south of the border driving two undocumented people from India in a 15-passenger van. Authorities found five others walking nearby. All were from the Indian state of Gujarat.

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One told investigators that he’d expected to be driven to his uncle’s home in Chicago and had paid the equivalent of $87,000 to an organization in India that arranged for him to enter Canada under a fraudulent student visa before crossing into the United States, according to court documents.

The man, who’s identified by the initials V.D., had been carrying a backpack with toys and other children’s items for Jagdish Patel’s family, who’d become separated from the rest of the group.

Shand allegedly told federal investigators that Harshkumar Patel recruited him to pick up people from India who illegally crossed the border into Minnesota and drive them to Chicago.

According to an earlier criminal complaint filed against Patel, Shand “described five total trips he had made to the international border in Minnesota in December 2021 and January 2022 to transport Indian nationals.”

For one trip, Patel allegedly paid Shand $3,500 in cash upfront and an additional $8,000 after delivering people to Chicago.

A related investigation by Homeland Security Investigations in Blaine, Wash. found that an organization based in Gujarat facilitated the smuggling of people from India to British Columbia and into the United States. The investigators in Washington said that the migrants smuggled by the group work in a chain of restaurants in Chicago.

Gujarat Police told U.S. authorities that they suspected the restaurant owner facilitates the smuggling in order to find people “to work in his restaurants for sub-standard wages.”

Shand, who remains free after promising to attend future hearings in the case, had been scheduled to face trial March 25 in Fergus Falls, but the trial has been postponed.

Patel is being held in the Sherburne County Jail ahead of his March 27 arraignment.