A Florida man charged with human smuggling after four migrants were found dead last year near the Canadian border has pleaded not guilty to the federal charges.
Court records show that Steve Shand, of Deltona, Florida, entered the plea Friday in a hearing for his arraignment held via video conference.
Federal authorities arrested Shand in January 2022 after authorities found the bodies of the four, who had frozen to death during a blizzard, near Emerson, Manitoba, which borders Minnesota and North Dakota. According to a federal criminal complaint, the dead were a family of four, including an infant and a teenager, and were identified by surviving immigrants as being Indian nationals.
Five other Indian nationals were also found on foot in Minnesota and two more were found in Shand’s van, officials said.
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Shand is charged with bringing two people into the country illegally and illegally transporting them once in the U.S. His trial has been set for July 17, but that is subject to change. His arraignment was postponed 10 times as courts dealt with a backlog spurred by COVID-19 pandemic measures that kept court personnel and the public from gathering in courtrooms.
Shand has not been charged in the deaths of the migrants. He was released last year without bond but ordered to obey several conditions.
According to the criminal complaint, one of the five immigrants who was found walking told authorities that his group had walked across the U.S. border, expecting to be picked up by someone on the other side. He said they had been walking for nearly 12 hours and had been with the family later found dead, but had gotten separated from them during the night.
Neither Shand’s attorney, federal public defender Aaron Morrison, nor federal prosecutor Laura Provinzino immediately returned phone messages left Saturday seeking comment.
Federal authorities have said that the case is believed to be linked to a larger smuggling operation along the Canadian border.