A Florida man arrested following the freezing deaths of four Indian citizens near the Canada-U.S. border is a cab driver with a troubled financial past, according to court filings.
Steve Shand is a former waiter who ran his own taxi business and declared bankruptcy four years ago. He was taken into custody this week for allegedly transporting illegal migrants.
U.S. authorities suspect he may be part of a larger network that has been smuggling Indian nationals into Minnesota from Manitoba by foot in frigid winter temperatures.
An expert said human smuggling rings working the southern U.S. border will hire drivers to pick up migrants once they cross, and deliver them to safe houses.
“So having that same strategy being used at the northern border would make sense,” said Keith Cozine, an assistant professor of homeland security at St. John’s University in New York.
Shand is being held in custody and was scheduled to appear in court Monday for a detention hearing. None of the allegations against him have been proven in court.
The 47-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen worked as a server at an Olive Garden franchise in Gurnee, Ill., between 2008 and 2012, after arriving in the U.S. from his native Jamaica, according to U.S. court filings.
He later moved to Deltona, Fla., and launched Shand’s Taxi in 2017.
“He’s lived in our neighborhood for several years,” said Sean Milroy, a neighbor. “He kind of kept to himself.”
Shand lived in the home with his two teenage boys, occasionally fielding complaints his lawn was unmowed, Milroy said.
Less than a year after starting his cab business, Shand filed for bankruptcy protection, claiming he owed more than US$100,000, court records show.
In the bankruptcy proceedings, he described himself as an “Uber driver” who was collecting most of his income from social security, and supporting a five-year-old daughter and two sons.
When Amazon opened a distribution plant in Deltona, a 2019 post on Shand’s Facebook page indicated he’d started a new job at the online retail mammoth. He is no longer employed there. Amazon declined to comment.
On Jan. 10, 2022, Shand rented a passenger van from the Alamo Rent-a-Car at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, according to the affidavit of a Department of Homeland Security investigator.
A receipt found by investigators showed he rented a room on Jan. 11 at the La Quinta hotel in Grand Forks, N.D., 4-1/2 hours northwest of the airport, and just over an hour south of the Manitoba border.
The next day, U.S. border agents found bootprints in the snow left by “three individuals who had walked across the U.S./Canadian border,” Special Agent John Stanley wrote in his affidavit.
Read more: More details emerge in Manitoba smuggling deaths; suspect being held in Grand Forks, N.D.
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Shand’s rental van was returned on Jan. 13. A rental agreement indicates he rented another passenger van at Minneapolis airport on Jan. 17, this time from Enterprise, the affidavit alleged.
The driver of a snow removal truck was on the road early on Jan. 19 when he came across the van, stuck in the snow near the Canadian border. He helped get it back on the road.
“He stated Shand told him he was on his way to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada to visit friends. The driver noticed two passengers in the van that he believed were of Indian or Pakistani descent,” the affidavit said.
Read more: Tragic incident means ‘serious conversations’ with Canada’s government needed: India Association
Alerted by the truck driver, the U.S. Border Patrol pulled the van over. Inside they found cases of bottled water, as well as juice bottles and snacks that had been purchased in Fargo, N.D., on Jan. 18, the affidavit said.
Shand was arrested for allegedly smuggling foreign nationals. The two passengers were also taken into custody, since they were undocumented, according to the affidavit. They were on their way to the Pembina Border Patrol Station when they came across five more Indian nationals who had allegedly just crossed the border on foot.
One of them, identified only as V.D., said they had been dropped off on the Canadian side and walked for 11-1/2 hours. Someone in a van was supposed to pick them up once they crossed the border.
He also told the border agents he was carrying the backpack of a family of four that had been crossing with them, but they had become separated. The pack contained children’s clothing, diapers, toys and medications.
Later that day, RCMP officers found four frozen bodies on the Canadian side of the border. The victims were tentatively identified as the family that became separated from V.D.’s group.
Two other Indian citizens were hospitalized with frostbite, including a woman who “will likely require partial amputation of one hand from exposure to extreme cold-weather conditions.”
“The investigation into the death of the four individuals in Canada is ongoing along with an investigation into a larger human smuggling operation of which Shand is suspected of being a part,” the affidavit said.
Many of the border crossers were wearing identical winter gear, including boots with prints that matched those found following earlier crossings.
One of the Indian citizens told border agents he paid a “significant amount of money” to enter Canada on a “fraudulently-obtained student visa.”
Once crossing the border on foot, he was to be picked up and driven to his uncle’s home in Chicago, the affidavit alleged.
Shand seems an unlikely human smuggling kingpin, said Kelly Sundberg, a former Canada Border Services Agency officer who now teaches at Mount Royal University in Calgary.
“I think they got low-hanging fruit here,” he said.