FLORENCE — An arraignment hearing for Reginald Wayne Miller, the president of Cathedral Bible College, lasted just minutes Wednesday with Miller putting his not guilty plea on the record and waiving his right to have the indictment in his case read in court.
Miller, whose Cathedral Bible College has campuses in Myrtle Beach and Marion, is charged with two counts of felony forced labor. Prosecutors say he forced foreign students attending his school to work for low wages by threatening to cancel their visas if they complained.
Miller did not speak during Wednesday’s hearing. Instead, defense lawyer Case Brittain of Myrtle Beach spoke on Miller’s behalf.
Brittain told U.S. Magistrate Judge Kaymani West that he wants to work with the U.S. Marshals Service to have Miller transferred from the Florence County Detention Center in Effingham — where he has been held since his May 21 arrest — to a jail in Dillon so he can be closer to a hospital in case he needs medical care for a heart condition.
Brittain also said Miller might ask for a modification to his bond terms in the near future. Miller is being held on a $250,000 secured bond.
Prior to the hearing, Brittain said in court that he had talked to Miller by telephone last week and that he “seemed to be in good spirits.” Brittain said he has just received discovery materials from prosecutors and plans to review those before meeting with Miller early next week.
Brittain’s father, Myrtle Beach lawyer Tommy Brittain, also is representing Miller.
A federal grand jury this month returned a two-count indictment against Miller in a follow-up to an earlier criminal complaint. The indictment refers to two individuals — John Doe #1 and John Doe #2 — who are foreign students at Miller’s college. Each forced labor charge carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence.
The alleged forced labor occurred between 2012 and this year, according to the indictment.
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.
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.
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_