Truck driver in trafficking case had lost commercial license

Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News Image 1of/11

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A line of commercial trucks make their way through an inspection station checkpoint as Border Patrol Agent K9 handler officer Garza (no first name used) and his inspection dog make the rounds 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may not have passed this station. On Tuesday, traffic was heavy yet brisk at the station and agents were out in full force to inspect commercial and personal vehicles heading from Laredo to San Antonio. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News) less[1]A line of commercial trucks make their way through an inspection station checkpoint as Border Patrol Agent K9 handler officer Garza (no first name used) and his inspection dog make the rounds 27 miles outside … more[2]Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

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A line of commercial trucks make their way through an inspection station checkpoint as Border Patrol Agent K9 handler officer Garza (no first name used) and his inspection dog make the rounds 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may not have passed this station.

On Tuesday, traffic was heavy yet brisk at the station and agents were out in full force to inspect commercial and personal vehicles heading from Laredo to San Antonio. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News) less[3]A line of commercial trucks make their way through an inspection station checkpoint as Border Patrol Agent K9 handler officer Garza (no first name used) and his inspection dog make the rounds 27 miles outside … more[4]Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

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Border Patrol Agent Rodriguez (no first name used) hands an ID card back to a truck driver as Customs and Border Patrol work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may not have passed this station. On Tuesday, traffic was heavy yet brisk at the station and agents were out in full force to inspect commercial and personal vehicles heading from Laredo to San Antonio. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News) less[5]Border Patrol Agent Rodriguez (no first name used) hands an ID card back to a truck driver as Customs and Border Patrol work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

The … more[6]Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

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Customs and Border Patrol work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may not have passed this station. On Tuesday, traffic was heavy yet brisk at the station and agents were out in full force to inspect commercial and personal vehicles heading from Laredo to San Antonio. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News) less[7]Customs and Border Patrol work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may … more[8]Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

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Border Patrol Agent Rodriguez (no first name used) talks to a truck driver as Customs and Border Patrol work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may not have passed this station. On Tuesday, traffic was heavy yet brisk at the station and agents were out in full force to inspect commercial and personal vehicles heading from Laredo to San Antonio. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News) less[9]Border Patrol Agent Rodriguez (no first name used) talks to a truck driver as Customs and Border Patrol work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

The trailer rig driven … more[10]Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

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A Customs and Border Patrol agent inspects a commercial truck in the secondary inspection station at the checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may not have passed this station. On Tuesday, traffic was heavy yet brisk at the station and agents were out in full force to inspect commercial and personal vehicles heading from Laredo to San Antonio. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News) less[11]A Customs and Border Patrol agent inspects a commercial truck in the secondary inspection station at the checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

The trailer rig driven by James Matthew … more[12]Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

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Customs and Border Patrol Agent and K9 handler officer Garza and his dog work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may not have passed this station. On Tuesday, traffic was heavy yet brisk at the station and agents were out in full force to inspect commercial and personal vehicles heading from Laredo to San Antonio. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News) less[13]Customs and Border Patrol Agent and K9 handler officer Garza and his dog work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. … more[14]Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

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Customs and Border Patrol Agent and K9 handler officer Garza and his dog work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may not have passed this station. On Tuesday, traffic was heavy yet brisk at the station and agents were out in full force to inspect commercial and personal vehicles heading from Laredo to San Antonio. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News) less[15]Customs and Border Patrol Agent and K9 handler officer Garza and his dog work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. … more[16]Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

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Customs and Border Patrol work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may not have passed this station. On Tuesday, traffic was heavy yet brisk at the station and agents were out in full force to inspect commercial and personal vehicles heading from Laredo to San Antonio. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News) less[17]Customs and Border Patrol work the inspection checkpoint 27 miles outside Laredo on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

The trailer rig driven by James Matthew Bradley, Jr. that smuggled the ill-fated immigrants may or may … more[18]Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Image 10 of 11 Two unnamed men, left and center, material witnesses in the human trafficking case, leave John Wood Federal Courthouse on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News) Two unnamed men, left and center, material witnesses in the human trafficking case, leave John Wood Federal Courthouse on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (Kin Man Hui/San Antonio Express-News)

Photo: Kin Man Hui, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

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James Matthew Bradley, Jr., the driver of the trailer rig carrying smuggled immigrants, arrives at the Federal Courthouse on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. James Matthew Bradley, Jr., the driver of the trailer rig carrying smuggled immigrants, arrives at the Federal Courthouse on Tuesday, July 25, 2017.

Photo: Bob Owen, Staff / San Antonio Express-News

Truck driver in trafficking case had lost commercial license 1 / 11

Back to Gallery As authorities tried to determine how a tractor-trailer carrying at least 100 immigrants — 10 of whom died — avoided detection at a checkpoint, Florida officials said Tuesday the truck driver accused of human trafficking lost his commercial vehicle license three months ago. James Bradley was disqualified from driving commercial after he did not provide a medical card, as required by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, according to Alexis Bakofsky, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

That would prohibit him from driving commercial vehicles in other states, as well. Bradley was diabetic and had to have a series of amputations, most recently the removal of his leg this spring, according to the Associated Press. He lost his license in April.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations allow commercial drivers with amputations to drive, if they get a special certification. However, a person who uses insulin to control their diabetes, especially to prevent loss of consciousness or disorientation, is typically denied a license. Also on Tuesday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration told the Associated Press that the agency is investigating the company Bradley was working for, Pyle Transportation of Iowa.

The agency said its findings will be shared with Department of Homeland Security investigators, who are conducting a criminal investigation into the immigrants’ deaths, according to the Associated Press. When contacted by the San Antonio Express-News, an employee at Pyle Transportation declined to comment. Bradley, of Kentucky and Florida, was charged Monday with human trafficking after authorities found eight immigrants dead and 30 others suffering from heat-related illnesses in a tractor-trailer at a Walmart parking lot at 8538 S.

Interstate 35 on the South Side. Another immigrant was found in some nearby woods. Since then, two more people who had been in the trailer died.

Bradley told authorities he was hauling the trailer for Pyle Transportation from Iowa to Brownsville and made some stops along the way, including Laredo. He said he was unaware people were inside until he parked the trailer in San Antonio and heard people inside. Pyle Transportation has a history of safety violations, records show.

Its license was downgraded to conditional, which means the company does not have adequate controls to ensure compliance with safety standards, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Administration. If left unaddressed, this noncompliance could lead to a motor carrier losing the ability to operate, according to National Transportation Consultants, a consulting agency that designs and manages safety and compliance programs. Agents with Homeland Security Investigations, meanwhile, are looking into how Bradley was able to bring the trailer full of immigrants through a Border Patrol-run traffic checkpoint on Interstate 35, about 29 miles from the Mexican border, the San Antonio Express-News confirmed.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo said he was told the trailer passed through the checkpoint around 10 p.m.

Saturday. Police arrived at the San Antonio Walmart parking lot at 12:23 a.m. Sunday.

“The tractor-trailer was inspected with negative results,” Cuellar said. “That doesn’t mean they actually opened up the trailer. … Inspected could mean they stopped the truck, asked them questions. Nothing suspicious alerted them.”

While the Border Patrol won’t speak specifically about the Bradley case, it concedes human cargo might slip through in commercial trucks — without a full-blown inspection — because of the massive traffic that passes through there every day, even at night. In fiscal year 2016, 1.2 million commercial vehicles passed through the checkpoint, along with 1.9 million passenger vehicles, according to the Border Patrol. Commercial traffic alone is expected to increase by 500,000 vehicles a year for the next five years, according to data cited by the Border Patrol on Tuesday.

Joel Martinez, acting deputy chief of the Border Patrol’s Laredo sector, said in an interview that it’s impossible to fully check every commercial truck that comes through — especially opening up trailer doors to see what’s inside. “While we do do our due diligence, and try to talk to as many as possible, just the sheer numbers we’re dealing with, the odds are stacked against us from the beginning,” Martinez said. Martinez said agents check every truck by talking to the driver and examining their paperwork.

If the driver or occupants of the rig are not U.S. citizens, permit paperwork is scrutinized. Border Patrol agents also look at paperwork stating what’s in the trailer. The trucks are not weighed, and the vehicles will only be X-rayed on secondary inspection, he said.

But the Border Patrol agents will look for signs that might raise suspicion and require that fuller, secondary inspection. “Because of the volume of traffic, they have seconds to determine whether they want to investigate the truck further or not,” Martinez said. But if no suspicion is aroused, trucks are let through.

“In this case, if the guy didn’t show signs of nervousness, there was no need to hold him up,” Martinez said. The court documents said people inside reported to investigators later that they were pounding on the interior walls, although it’s not known at what time they were desperately trying to get out. Martinez said “it stands to reason that if our agents would have heard something like that, they would have stopped it.”

Trucker Jim Cullison, who has hauled refrigerated trailers for 25 years, said the trailer’s walls are very thick and insulated with at least 3 inches of hard foam because of the necessity of keeping products preserved. “It’s next to impossible to hear anybody beating on the walls and or floor or doors,” Cullison said in an email to the Express-News. Jerry Robinette, who was special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio for several years, seconded Cullison’s observation.

“They may have been told, ‘Be quiet, you’re going through a checkpoint,’ and coupled with that it’s an insulated refrigerated trailer, that would have made it hard to detect,” Robinette said. Shane Folden, the current special agent in charge of ICE and HSI, said his agency is investigating the trailer case and its possible link to a larger smuggling chain. “Like I said, the goal is to put together the network and dismantle the organization, and a lot of the time, one of the key pieces to that is the money,” Folden said. “It’s usually a primary motivator for the criminals.

“You usually have individuals who are responsible for driving, but you also have individuals for recruiting drivers. You have individuals responsible for managing stash houses both north of the border and south of the border. Have individuals responsible for managing the money.

There can be a whole lot of different nodes in these networks that we want to focus on,” he added. Also Tuesday, Bradley made a surprise appearance at San Antonio’s federal courthouse again and may have spoken further to federal agents, a day after his initial hearing. Bradley was shuttled from a federal jail to the courthouse in the afternoon, and spent about two hours in a secure area where inmates await court hearings before he was taken back to jail.

But Bradley was not scheduled for any hearings and didn’t have any. His presence was largely kept secret. Bradley wasn’t scheduled for another court hearing until Thursday.

But defendants are often delivered to the marshal cells for “debriefings” — defendants or witnesses tell their stories to law enforcement and/or prosecutors. Agents with Homeland Security Investigations went into the holding cell area after one of Bradley’s appointed lawyers, Alfredo Villarreal, came out. They spent at least an hour in that secure area.

Villarreal did not acknowledge that his client was “debriefing.” He said his client simply came to sign paperwork that cancels Thursday’s scheduled bail and preliminary hearings. By waiving the hearings, he is not challenging probable cause and is agreeing to stay in jail. “He’s here for waivers.

That’s it,” Villarreal told the Express-News, showing a reporter the papers. Villarreal explained that the privately run federal jail, notorious for bad conditions and lack of attorney-client privacy, was not the best place to speak with his client. While Bradley spent time in the holding cells, alleged victims of human trafficking — including two men who had been in the trailer Bradley was hauling — appeared for hearings Tuesday.

The pair that had been in the trailer, like two others who appeared Monday, were ordered held as material witnesses and will provide videotaped depositions next month about their ordeal. Among those who also appeared Tuesday were three men found in a stash house on the West Side that was raided by Homeland Security the same day the trailer was discovered. In that raid, 11 immigrants, mostly from Honduras and clad in underwear, were rescued.

The three men were charged with illegal re-entry after being deported. The stash-house investigation had already been ongoing before the trailer incident, court records show, and officials have said it’s unrelated. But agents continue to investigate whether the two are part of cooperating smuggling networks.

Staff Writer Jason Buch contributed to this story

References

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