Man charged in human smuggling case at Canada border pleads not guilty; parents, 2 children froze to death

News & Politics

A Florida man pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from a deadly human smuggling case at the border between the United States and Canada, Grand Forks Herald reported Saturday.

Steve Shand, 48, of Deltona, Florida, entered his plea via video conference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo I. Brisbois Friday, according to ABC News.

A federal criminal complaint was filed against Shand charging him with human smuggling January 2022.

The U.S. Border Patrol, assisted by Homeland Security Investigations agents, stopped a fifteen-passenger rental van less than a mile from the the U.S.-Canada border January 19, 2022. The van was in a rural area between official ports of entry at Lancaster, Minnesota and Pembina, North Dakota, according to the United States Attorney’s Office District of Minnesota.

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Shand was the van’s driver. Two passengers in the van were determined to be “undocumented Indian nationals.”

Conditions that day were blizzard-like with freezing temperatures.

After Shand and his passengers were transported to the Pembina Border Patrol Station, officers came across five more Indian nationals just a quarter mile south of the border walking toward the site of Shand’s arrest.

The group had been walking for more than 11 hours and were expecting to be picked up by someone.

One member of that group told officers they had become separated from a family of four Indian nationals during the night. The man was carrying a backpack for the family that had children’s clothes, a diaper, toys, and some children’s medicine.

The next day, Royal Canadian Mounted Police alerted USBP that four frozen bodies had been found just across the northern side of the border.

The dead adults were identified as 39-year-old Jagdishkumar Patel, 37-year-old Vaishaliben Patel and their two children. Vihangi Patel, an 11-year-old girl and her brother, 3-year-old Dharmik Patel also perished.

Shand, who was released last year without bond subject to several conditions, has not been charged with the deaths of the Patel family.

He is charged with two counts of human smuggling, one for each person found in the van.

Shand’s jury trial is set for July 17, NDTV reported. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

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