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Truck driver accused in deadly human smuggling case pleads not guilty

SAN ANTONIO -- The driver of a semitrailer that was transporting people into the U.S. through Texas in an alleged human smuggling operation has pleaded not guilty to federal charges against him.

James Matthew Bradley Jr. was indicted Wednesday on five charges, including conspiracy to transport immigrants illegally for financial gain resulting in death and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He entered a not guilty plea Thursday.

San Antonio officers found the semitrailer containing almost 40 people in July. Its refrigeration system wasn't working, and investigators say passengers had difficulty breathing as temperatures climbed to dangerous levels.

Bradley's commercial driver license was suspended by the state of Florida in April after he failed to provide the state with a current medical card, which federal law requires. It would have been illegal for him to have had an additional license from another state.

In 1997, entered a guilty plea in a felony domestic violence case. He was charged in 1998 and 1999 for violating probation, and was sentenced in 2003 to three years in a halfway house. He would later serve one year in a Colorado prison for violating the terms of that sentence.

Bradley has also been cited repeatedly over the years for violating federal motor carrier safety regulations. The most recent infraction came in April 2013, when he was ticketed for violating a rule that bars truckers from driving longer than 14 hours without a break.

The alleged smuggling operation resulted in at least 10 deaths. Twenty-two survivors are in custody as potential witnesses. Two people remain in the hospital. Five others have been turned over to immigration authorities.