By The Canadian Press
MINNEAPOLIS — A federal grand jury in the United States has formally indicted a man on human smuggling charges after the deaths of four Indian migrants near the Canada-U. S. border last month.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Minneapolis announced the indictment on two counts of human smuggling.
Steve Shand, who is 47 and from Florida, was allegedly behind the wheel of a 15-seat passenger van when he was pulled over Jan. 19 on a remote Minnesota road in blizzard-like conditions.
Court documents allege there were also two undocumented Indian nationals in the van, along with snacks and provisions.
Not far away, in southern Manitoba, RCMP and border officials discovered four frozen bodies, later identified as a couple and their two children from India, who investigators believe were part of a larger group making their way to the United States.
A new court date has not been set for Shand, who was released last month on a personal recognizance bond after a court appearance in St. Paul, Minn.
Almost a dozen family members from the U.S. and India travelled to Winnipeg last week to attend a funeral for Jagdish Patel, 39; his wife Vaishaliben Patel, 37; their 11-year-old daughter, Vihangi; and their three-year-old son, Dharmik.
RCMP have said it’s believed the family arrived in Toronto on Jan. 12 and then made its way to Manitoba. Investigators are still working to confirming the family’s movements.
Court documents say that at about the same time of Shand’s arrest, agents encountered five other Indian migrants as they emerged from the darkness not far from the border. One said they had been walking through the snow and bitter cold for more than 11 hours.
Evidence detailed in the documents suggests the group was not the first to make the perilous trek. Twice in December and once in January border patrol agents found boot prints in the snow near where the van was later pulled over.
A court file from Florida shows Shand filed for bankruptcy more than three years ago, reporting assets worth $193,343 and liabilities of nearly $160,000. Describing himself as an Uber driver, Shand’s assets at the time included two vehicles and a single-family home.