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Company whose trailer was used in human smuggling case has history of legal problems

Pyle Transportation — the Schaller, Iowa-based trucking company whose name was on a trailer found to be carrying dozens of undocumented immigrants in San Antonio on Sunday — has a history of legal trouble and unpaid taxes, according to records.

Owner Brian Pyle told an Iowa news station that truck driver James Bradley, who has been charged with smuggling immigrants for financial gain, had worked with Pyle Transportation on and off for about five years. But Pyle said he did not know what Bradley was hauling when the trailer was discovered in a Walmart parking lot Sunday with eight of the migrants inside dead.

The federal government charged in March 2015 that Pyle Transportation Inc. had avoided tax obligations “by continually neglecting to timely file employment tax returns” since at least 2009, according to the complaint. Though the family-owned company withheld federal tax payments from its employees, it did not send that money to the federal government, the government alleged. The complaint also claimed that the company failed to pay taxes for heavy highway vehicle use. As of May 13, 2014, the government claimed that the company owed $151,223 in unpaid taxes.

“Absent an injunction, based on its past tax history, it is reasonable to expect that PTI’s noncompliance with the tax laws will continue,” the complaint reads.

“In fact, the individual defendants previously operated two other trucking businesses, Horizon Logistics and Pyle Truck Line,” which did the same thing, the complaint continues, referring to Brian Pyle and other Pyles listed as officers or employees of the company. “After accruing and failing to pay those tax liabilities, the operations and customers of the previous businesses were transferred to [Pyle Transportation].”

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Pyle Truck Lines also faced felony charges in 2000 for falsifying a report or records to the secretary of transportation. A federal judge ordered the company to serve five years of probation and pay $42,254 in restitution, according to federal court documents.

Reached on the phone Monday, Pyle said, “My lawyer just told me not talk to anyone anymore.”

Federal prosecutors say Bradley carried dozens of undocumented immigrants in a trailer with no cooling or ventilation. By the time Bradley stopped the trailer in a Walmart parking lot early Sunday, eight of the migrants inside were dead and many others were suffering from the critical effects of heat stroke, the government said. Two of them died later at hospitals.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry has said that 25 of 39 migrants were Mexican nationals, based on preliminary information from its consulate in San Antonio.

Bradley could face the death penalty because people died while in transit. Bradley told investigators that he was traveling from Iowa at the request of his boss to deliver the trailer to Brownsville, Tex., and didn’t know what was inside. He had said that his boss, who wasn’t named in the document, had sold the trailer to a person in Brownsville.

Reached Sunday by a reporter, Brian Pyle said Bradley was an owner-operator involved in a standard trucking practice in which Bradley owned the truck and managed his own deliveries but used Pyle’s insurance and company name and paid Pyle a percentage of his earnings.

Without naming Bradley, Pyle had told a Washington Post reporter on Sunday that this was the truck driver’s “very first trip” and that he didn’t know what he was hauling. However, Pyle told an Iowa television news station Monday that he had worked with Bradley for years and had hired Bradley to deliver a trailer he had sold in May.  He said Bradley was scheduled to drop it off in Brownsville, Texas on Friday.

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“He has worked here before,” Pyle told the reporter. “He is an owner-operator now, or he was at the time. . . . He did everything on his own — bought his own fuel, made his own decisions.”

The WHO-TV reporter said Pyle regretted not taking the logo off his trailer before selling it.

Bradley is pictured in his Facebook profile photo wearing a Pyle T-shirt and was Facebook friends with Pyle, whose Facebook page has now been removed, and other Pyle employees and truck drivers.

Pyle Transportation has 18 trucks and 15 drivers, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Authorized for hire and interstate driving, Pyle is listed as a carrier of general freight, refrigerated food and beverages, meat, fresh produce and paper products.

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Owner-operator trucking can be a financially challenging job, said Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade association with more than 150,000 truck-driver members. The average annual income for such drivers is around $43,000, she said, and while drivers operate with considerably more discretion over their hours and assignments than company drivers, they are also responsible for a wider range of costs.

“The long and short of it is being a small business trucker entails not just the cost of your equipment but also the insurance and taxes and fees,” Taylor said. “And fuel is like the number-one expense after equipment.”

Bradley bought the truck — a 1999 Peterbilt model that had been refurbished and given a new paint job — in March for $90,000, said Justin McDaniel of Outlaw Iron in West Bend, Wis., who sold him the truck. Bradley had taken out a pair of loans earlier this year to buy a truck and trailer for which he needed to make payments of almost $2,000 a month, according to records.

Avi Selk and Todd Frankel contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story included complaints about Pyle Transportation left on a Facebook page. Because the allegations in those complaints could not be corroborated, they have been removed.