Grand jury indicts Florida man accused in human smuggling near Manitoba-U.S. border
Bodies of family who froze to death were found same day Steve Shand was arrested near border
A grand jury in Minneapolis has indicted a man who was arrested near the Manitoba-U.S. border last month, accused of involvement in a human smuggling operation.
Steve Anthony Shand, 47, was arrested on Jan. 19 — the same day the bodies of a family of four who had frozen to death near the border were found.
He has now been indicted on two counts of human smuggling, acting United States attorney Charles J. Kovats said in a news release on Thursday.
On Jan. 19, U.S. Border Patrol officers stopped a 15-passenger van about one kilometre south of the international border in a rural area between the official ports of entry at Lancaster, Minn., and Pembina, N.D., the U.S. Attorney's Office for the district of Minnesota said last month.
Shand, who was driving the van, was arrested and charged with human smuggling.
He was transporting two undocumented Indian nationals in the passenger van when he was arrested, according to court documents filed last month with the U.S. District Court in Minnesota.
Five other undocumented Indian nationals were also arrested around the same time, very close to where Shand was arrested, the affidavit said.
The same day, the bodies of a family from the Gujarat region of India — Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, 39, Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, 37, and their children, Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, 11, and Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, 3 — were discovered in a field near the border.
It has been determined they died of exposure to extreme weather conditions while trying to walk across the Canada-U.S. border near Emerson, Man.
It's believed the family of four, along with the two people in the van with Shand when he was arrested and the five others arrested nearby, were all part of a group trying to cross the border from Canada to the U.S., but that the family had become separated from the rest.
After U.S. Border Patrol agents encountered the group of five people who became separated from the rest, one told the agents they had been walking through the snow and bitter cold for more than 11 hours.
U.S. court documents say the weather was severe at the time, with high winds, blowing snow and temperatures below –34 C.
Authorities in India, Canada and the U.S. are trying to find out who helped the Patel family and the other Indian nationals detained on the Canadian side of the border.
Cleared for release under conditions last month
Shand was cleared for release on a number of conditions following his arrest last month, including surrendering all of his travel documents, refraining from obtaining any others and staying in the district of Florida where he lives, with the exception of attending court.
He also needed to report any interactions with police, refrain from committing any crimes and not be in possession of any weapons.
During a court appearance on Jan. 24, Shand also waived his right to a preliminary hearing, in which a judge, rather than a grand jury, would assess whether there's probable cause to proceed with laying charges.
According to the United States Attorneys Office, grand juries are groups of citizens empowered to determine whether enough evidence exists to justify a prosecutor laying felony charges.
An indictment does not mean that a person has been proven guilty — it is an allegation, and Shand is presumed innocent until proven guilty, Thursday's news release says.
Shand does not have any upcoming court appearances scheduled, but a spokesperson for the Minneapolis district attorney's office said an arraignment would likely be scheduled in the next few weeks.