A truck driver who was illegally transporting dozens of smuggled immigrants has pleaded guilty to his role in an undocumented alien smuggling operation that resulted in 10 deaths last summer.
The driver, 61-year-old James Matthew Bradley Jr., pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to transport aliens resulting in death and one count of transporting aliens resulting in death, on Oct. 16 during a hearing in federal court in Texas.
Bradley faces up to life in federal prison. He remains in custody pending a sentencing hearing on Jan. 22. He also agreed to forfeit to the government his tractor-trailer rig, plus approximately $5,600 in U.S. currency and a .38 caliber pistol recovered from inside the cab.
According to court records, which Bradley admitted were factually correct, San Antonio Police Department officers responded to a call shortly after midnight on Sunday, July 23, at the Wal-Mart store at 8538 Interstate 35 in San Antonio. An officer encountered a tractor-trailer behind the store, finding a number of people standing and lying in the rear of the trailer, and the driver, Bradley, in the cab. At the scene, law enforcement officers discovered 39 undocumented aliens. Of the 39 aliens found at the scene, 10 died, including eight in the trailer and two who died later in area hospitals.
Court records further state that the undocumented aliens estimated the trailer contained 70 to 200 people during transport. They also described differing fees for being transported. Among the individuals in the trailer were four juveniles, aged 14-17 years old, who were unaccompanied by an adult.
In a news release announcing the plea deal, federal immigration enforcement officials said Bradley’s admission of guilt “helps to close the door on one of the conspirators responsible for causing the tragic loss of life.”
“This case is a glaring reminder that alien smugglers are driven by greed and have little regard for the health and well-being of their human cargo, which can prove to be a deadly combination,” Shane M. Folden, special agent in charge of homeland security investigations in San Antonio, said in a statement.
Bradley said he was transporting the trailer from Schaller, Iowa, to Brownsville, Texas. He denied knowing there were people in the trailer, and discovered them only when he exited the vehicle to relieve himself. He said he attempted to administer aid to them. Law enforcement officers from SAPD reported they found eight deceased persons and 30-40 others, all undocumented. Bradley was taken into custody.
Bradley told authorities he was traveling from Laredo to San Antonio, after having the tractor-trailer washed and detailed at a truck stop near Laredo. He intended to take the trailer to Brownsville to deliver it to someone who had purchased it. He stopped at the Wal-Mart and heard banging and shaking in the trailer. He was surprised when “he was run over by ‘Spanish’ people and knocked to the ground,” according to the affidavit. He realized that at least one person was dead. He said he knew the trailer refrigeration system did not work and that the four vent holes probably were clogged. He said he called his wife but did not call 911.
Company placed out of service
Last week, the trucking company that owned the semi-trailer involved in the case was ordered out-of-service by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
FMCSA officials said the company, Pyle Transportation, of Schaller, Iowa, was placed out of service because of an unsatisfactory safety rating. It’s not been confirmed that the smuggling case in July caused the agency to institute a compliance review of the company, but FMCSA did initiate the audit after the incident.
Pyle Transportation owner Brian Pyle has publicly denied knowledge of the alleged smuggling conspiracy. He has said that he sold the trailer and hired Bradley, who had worked previously for the firm, as a contractor to drive it to Brownsville, Texas, to deliver it to the buyer. The company had been operating under a conditional safety rating because of prior violations, including allowing an employee to drive with a disqualified commercial driver’s license; failure to follow hours-of-service regulations; and poor maintenance on tires and brakes. The company has the right to appeal the order.
Bradley’s co-defendant, 47-year-old Pedro Silva Segura, an undocumented alien residing in Laredo, Texas, faces one count of conspiracy to transport and harbor undocumented aliens for financial gain resulting in death; one count of conspiracy to transport and harbor undocumented aliens for financial gain resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy; and, two counts of transporting undocumented aliens resulting in serious bodily injury and placing lives in jeopardy. Those charges stem from a superseding federal grand jury indictment handed down on September 20.
Silva, who was arrested in Laredo on an alien smuggling charge, is in custody and awaiting transfer to San Antonio.
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