A federal grand jury this week returned a two-count indictment against Reginald Wayne Miller, the president and founder of Cathedral Bible College, in a follow-up to an earlier criminal complaint accusing Miller of forcing foreign students to work for low wages by threatening to cancel their visas if they complained.
The indictment refers to two individuals -- John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 -- who are foreign students at Miller’s college, which has campuses in Myrtle Beach and Marion. Each charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence unless prosecutors prove kidnapping or aggravated sexual abuse also was involved, in which case the maximum sentence is life in prison.
The alleged forced labor occurred between 2012 and this year, according to the indictment.
Miller, who was arrested on May 21 and is being held at the Florence County Detention Center on $250,000 secured bond, is scheduled to attend an arraignment hearing at 2:30 p.m. on June 19 in Florence.
Investigators with Homeland Security said in a criminal complaint filed May 22 that Miller forced foreign students to work, sometimes more than 40 hours a week, at the Marion campus and at his personal residence in that town for as little as $25 per week. Miller threatened to cancel the students’ visas and send them back to their home countries if they complained or didn’t comply with his demands, according to court documents.
The criminal complaint stemmed from interviews Homeland Security investigators conducted in May with at least 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.
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 court documents.
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.
Miller is the only person at Cathedral Bible College who can enter information into the federal Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, or SEVIS, an Internet-based system that provides users and the government with 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. Investigators say Miller used that access to retaliate against foreign students who complained about their working conditions.
Investigators say Miller misrepresented Cathedral Bible College’s education, working and housing situations to foreign students who applied through the Internet to attend the school.
This is Miller’s second 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 -- who hosted the “Good Morning Jesus” television show during his time in Florence -- 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_