FLORENCE — Reginald Wayne Miller, the president and founder of Cathedral Bible College, is not allowed to set foot on the college campus in Marion or communicate with any of the school’s current or former foreign students as an investigation continues into allegations that Miller threatened to cancel foreign students’ visas if they did not work long hours for little pay.
Those terms are part of a $250,000 secured bond that Magistrate Judge Thomas Rogers set for Miller during a detention hearing Friday in federal court. In addition, Miller will be on home detention and will be required to wear an electronic monitoring device.
“I don’t think we’ve identified all of the potential victims yet,” said Carrie Fisher, the assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case. Fisher said some victims may have already left the country and some may be former students who have yet to come forward. “Our investigation just started this week.”
Miller, who wore shackles and orange prison garb at the hearing, did not speak except to tell Rogers that he understood and agreed to the bond requirements. His public defender, William Nettles, said Miller’s friends and family will attempt to raise the money needed for bond. Miller also turned over his passport to court officials. He was still booked into the Florence County Detention Center on Friday afternoon.
Agents with Homeland Security Investigations filed a criminal complaint against Miller this week saying they have probable cause to charge him with forced labor, a felony that carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years for each count. Investigators say Miller forced foreign students to work at the campus and his personal residence for as little as $25 per week. Miller threatened to cancel the students’ visas if they complained or didn’t comply with his demands, according to an affidavit filed this week.
In addition to the Marion campus, Cathedral Bible College has a site on the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base for American and former military students.
A key part of Miller’s bond agreement limits his use of the college’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, an Internet-based system that provides users with access to current information about foreign students. SEVIS enables colleges to transmit electronic information, such as a student’s violation of visa terms, directly to Homeland Security. Such access can be used to terminate a student’s visa. Miller is the only Cathedral Bible College official with access to the SEVIS system and investigators say he used that access to retaliate against foreign students who complained about their working conditions.
Under Friday’s bond agreement, any information about Cathedral Bible College students that is entered into the SEVIS system must first be approved by the U.S. Probation Office.
An affidavit filed this week with a criminal complaint against Miller outlines interviews Homeland Security investigators conducted with eight Cathedral Bible College students. Those students told investigators that the classes offered at the college “were not real” and the main focus of the school is having students work full-time hours at the school and at Miller’s home. Federal law limits those on student visas to a maximum of 20 hours of work per week and that work must be an integral part of the student’s educational program.
The students also told investigators that their living conditions at the college were substandard, including long periods of time without any hot water, heat or air conditioning. They also stated that the food provided by the college “was expired or insufficient for consumption and nutrition,” according to the affidavit.
The Sun News is not naming the alleged victims because of privacy concerns in an ongoing investigation.
One student told investigators he had been promised $100 per week as part of a work-study program with the college. That student said he only makes $50 per week and regularly works between 46 hour and 56 hours each week. The student also said he worked for two weeks without any pay.
Another student told investigators that he was paid $50 per week for about 32 hours of work.
“Dr. Miller told [the student] if he did not like this work, he could go home or he [Miller] would call the Immigration and Naturalization Service,” the affidavit states.
Another student at the college said he earns $50 per week for 40 hours of work.
“At one point, Dr. Miller told [the student] he needed to work harder in order to receive the necessary paperwork to return back to the United States” after visiting his family in a foreign country, the affidavit states. “When Dr. Miller finally gave [the student] the paperwork, Dr. Miller told him that when he returned . . . he would then work 28 hours per week, but get paid $25 per week until his work improved.”
Investigators said the students’ work is subject to U.S. minimum wage and hour laws and that Miller does not have an exemption or authorization to pay the students at the below-minimum wage rates they described.
Cathedral Bible College markets itself via the Internet to foreign students and offers degrees in theology, divinity, Christian counseling, Christian ministry and a diploma in Bible studies. Investigators said Miller misrepresented the school’s education, working and housing situations to foreign students who applied to attend Cathedral Bible College.
Miller, who said on his website that he earned a doctorate of divinity degree, also was the former pastor at Grand Strand Cathedral church, located on the former base.
Miller has had a past run-in with law enforcement. In 2006, the Horry County Police Department charged Miller with lewdness and prostitution after Miller exposed himself to an undercover police officer in a bath house at Myrtle Beach State Park, according to a police report. Miller entered into a pre-trial intervention program and the charge ultimately was expunged.
Cathedral Bible College originally was founded as Tabernacle Bible Institute in 1975 in Florence. Miller moved the school to the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in 1995, purchasing property at a reduced rate under a federal program that gave incentives to educational facilities relocating to closed military sites.
In addition to the college, Miller initially operated a non-accredited, Christian-based school for elementary through high school students. That school eventually closed and Miller began focusing on attracting foreign students to his college in 1999 when the federal government approved Cathedral Bible College for the visa program.
Contact DAVID WREN at 626-0281 or via twitter at @David_Wren_