A Florida man who was arrested last year near the U.S.-Canada border with two migrants in a rented passenger van pleaded not guilty Friday to federal human smuggling charges.
U.S. Border Patrol arrested Steve Anthony Shand, 48, of Deltona, the morning of Jan. 19, 2022, near the border, about 7 miles northeast of St. Vincent, Minnesota, officials said.
He was indicted on two counts of human smuggling — one for each person in the van — the U.S. attorney’s office for Minnesota said.
Shand pleaded not guilty Friday in a Zoom conference with U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo I. Brisbois.
He has not been charged in connection with the deaths of the four migrants or with the discovery, as detailed in charging documents, of several other migrants in the area.
His attorney, who was present during Friday's videoconference, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday evening.
Hours after Shand was arrested last year, Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the bodies of four people believed to be migrants from western India had been found nearby, about 40 feet from the border in Canada, authorities said in a criminal complaint filed in the case.
Authorities later identified the dead as Jagdish Patel, 39; Vaishaliben Patel, 37; and their children, Vihangi, 11, and Dharmik, 3. They had become separated from a larger group of migrants crossing the border in blizzardlike conditions and freezing temperatures, U.S. and Canadian officials said.
Five Indian migrants who had split off from the family were discovered alive that day a quarter-mile south of the border heading toward where Shand was arrested, the complaint said.
One of the five survivors said he was carrying a backpack for the family that died, the complaint said.
Two other migrants also found in the area were hospitalized, and one faced amputation of a hand after frostbite set in, the complaint said.
Like many other migrants, the Patels may have faced crushing economic conditions in India and calculated that the trek to the U.S., which had included a flight to Toronto, was worth the risk, friends and relatives have said.
Shand was arrested in a rural area between ports of entry at Lancaster, Minnesota, and Pembina, North Dakota. He was held for five days before he was released on a judge’s order that included multiple conditions, including that he not travel beyond Minnesota or Florida.
After he was arrested, Shand invoked his right to remain silent, prosecutors said.
Shand is a naturalized citizen from Jamaica who rented the 15-passenger van from an agency at Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport two days before his arrest, the document said.
The van, which contained plastic cups, water jugs, snacks and juice bottles, was scheduled to be returned the next day, the complaint said.
Some of the migrants had winter clothing that appeared new and similar to items in Shand's possession, the complaint said.
Five of the seven surviving migrants from that day wore the same model of boots, and similar shoe prints were spotted along the border the previous week, officials said in the complaint.
The split-off group of five started their crossing just on the Canadian side. They traveled less than a mile but had been walking for more than 11 hours in zero-degree weather when they were discovered in the U.S., according to the filing.
One of the five told authorities they expected to be picked up on the U.S. side.