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A border marker just outside of Emerson, Man. on Jan. 20, 2022.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

A second man is facing charges in the United States in connection with the smuggling of an Indian family who froze to death in a Manitoba field as they attempted to cross into Minnesota during a blizzard two years ago.

Harshkumar Ramanlal Patel is charged with two criminal offences, including the transportation of an illegal alien and conspiracy to bring and attempt to bring an illegal alien to the U.S., according to documents filed last Thursday with the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The allegations have not been proven in court.

Mr. Patel, 28, was arrested at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago last week while picking up a friend, said Michael Leonard, his lawyer. Mr. Patel’s detention hearing is scheduled for Wednesday. His arraignment has not yet occurred and the case itself will be heard in federal court in Minnesota, he said.

“These are merely accusations at this point, and we haven’t been provided with any of the evidence yet,” Mr. Leonard said in an interview Sunday, adding that Mr. Patel intends to plead not guilty to the charges.

Mr. Patel, an Indian national who resides in the United States, is alleged to have played a role in organizing a smuggling trip across the Canada-U.S. border for a group of Indian migrants on Jan. 19, 2022. That group included the now-deceased family of four: Jagdishkumar Patel, 39; his wife, Vaishaliben, 34; daughter Vihangi, 11; and son Dharmik, age three. (U.S. court documents provided different biographical details for the husband and wife than those originally released by the RCMP.)

The Patel family, who originally hailed from the western Indian state of Gujarat, were found dead near Emerson, Man., just metres from the Canada-U.S. border, after they were separated from the rest of the migrant group, according to a U.S. law enforcement officer’s affidavit in the case. At the time of their deaths, the temperature was hovering around minus-35 C.

Emerson, which is situated near both Minnesota and North Dakota, has been the site of significant illegal border-crossing activity between Canada and the U.S. in recent years.

It is unknown if the accused, Mr. Patel, is related to the four deceased: “I haven’t examined that issue,” Mr. Leonard said.

Mr. Patel was known to use five aliases including “Dirty Harry,” “Harry Patel,” “Param Singh,” “Haresh Rameshlal Patel” and “Harshkumar Singh Patel,” the court filing said, alleging he was part of a human-smuggling organization.

He is the second man after Steve Shand to be charged by U.S. authorities in connection with the case. Mr. Shand, a Florida resident, was arrested and charged with two counts of human smuggling in January, 2022, after the passenger van he was driving was stopped by U.S. border agents in a remote part of Minnesota, not far from where the Patels were found dead.

Two Indian nationals were found in Mr. Shand’s van and another five were discovered walking nearby, according to the affidavit.

After his arrest, police determined that Mr. Shand had been conversing with someone using the moniker “Dirty Harry” on WhatsApp. Further, Mr. Shand and Mr. Patel discussed topics including arrangements for rental cars, hotels, payments and pick-up co-ordinates for the Indian nationals. They also talked about the severe weather conditions, the affidavit added.

“Make sure everyone is dressed for the blizzard conditions please,” Mr. Shand wrote to Mr. Patel in one such exchange that was cited in the affidavit. “Done,” Mr. Patel replied, to which Mr. Shand responded: “We not losing any money.”

Mr. Shand, who pled not guilty to the charges last year in Duluth, Minn., is facing a jury trial starting on March 25, according to the docket in his case. His lawyer, Aaron Morrison, did not immediately reply to a request for comment on Sunday.

Police in India, meanwhile, previously charged three men who allegedly acted as immigration agents for the deceased Patel family.

Human smuggling has become a serious concern for the U.S. In April, 2022, just months after the Patel family members’ deaths, the Department of Homeland Security launched a campaign to dismantle smuggling networks, including at the Canadian border.

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