Indian-origin man arrested in Chicago for human smuggling linked to deaths of Gujarati family

Indian-origin man arrested in Chicago

New York: Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel, an Indian-origin man who goes by various aliases, was arrested by US authorities in Chicago on February 26, 2024, for his alleged involvement in a human smuggling conspiracy that resulted in the deaths of a Gujarati family of four near the Canada-US border two years ago.

The tragic incident

On January 19, 2022, four members of the Patel family — Jagdish, 39, Vaishaliben, 37, Vihangi, 11, and Dharmik, 3 — were found frozen to death near Emerson, Manitoba, approximately 12 metres from the Canada-US border. They were attempting to enter the US illegally from Canada, as part of a larger group of Indian nationals who were smuggled by an organised network.

The same day, US border patrol authorities arrested Steve Shand, 47, a Canadian citizen, for transporting two other Indian nationals from the border to a nearby town in Minnesota. Shand later confessed to working for the human smuggling organisation and identified Patel as one of his recruiters.

The human smuggling network

According to US court documents, affidavit and criminal complaint filed in the District Court for the District of Minnesota, Patel was part of a Gujarat-based human smuggling group that operated in India, Canada and the US. The group charged Indian nationals hefty fees to arrange their illegal entry into the US, often via Canada.

Patel, who had been refused a US visa on at least five occasions between 2014 and 2016, managed to enter the US on July 21, 2016, using a fraudulent passport. He then settled in Chicago and became a key player in the smuggling network, recruiting drivers like Shand to transport the illegal aliens from the border to various locations in the Chicago area.

Shand told Homeland Security officials that he had made five trips to the border in Minnesota between December 2021 and January 2022, to transport Indian nationals, including the ill-fated trip on January 19, 2022. He said he dropped off his passengers at different places, such as a supermarket called Patel Brothers, a private residence in a wealthy neighbourhood, and a motel called Presidential Inn and Suites.

The exploitation of the smuggled Indians

The court documents also revealed that the Indian nationals who reached their final destinations in the US, usually Chicago, had to work in a chain of restaurants owned by a man from India, who has been identified by the authorities. The restaurants were used as a way to exploit the smuggled Indians, who had to work for sub-standard wages and pay off their debt to the smuggling organisation.

This was confirmed by a Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) official in Delhi, who attended a meeting with the Gujarat Police in February 2022. The Gujarat Police stated that Jagdish Patel, the father of the family that died on January 19, 2022, was associated with the restaurant owner in Chicago on social media and through financial transactions. The Gujarat Police suspected that the restaurant owner in Chicago facilitated the smuggling of Indian nationals to work in his restaurants.

The current status of the case

Patel, who is 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”. He was held at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and will appear for a detention hearing on February 28, 2024, according to The Chicago Tribune.

Indian-origin man arrested in Chicago

The case is being investigated by the HSI, the US Border Patrol, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Gujarat Police. The US Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota is prosecuting the case. If convicted, Patel faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.