Reginald Wayne Miller, the president of Cathedral Bible College, was arrested Thursday on accusations that he forces foreign students at his school to work long hours for low wages and then threatens to revoke their student visas if they complain or fail to comply with his demands.
The 65-year-old Miller -- whose school recently moved from the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base to Marion, where Miller now lives -- was booked into the Florence County Detention Center shortly after 2 a.m. on Thursday.
Miller made an initial appearance in federal court Thursday afternoon, where Magistrate Judge Thomas Rogers appointed a public defender to represent him. A preliminary hearing will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday in Florence to determine whether Miller should be held in jail pending further proceedings. He will remain in jail at least until Friday’s hearing.
Agents with Homeland Security Investigations filed a criminal complaint against Miller 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.
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A telephone call to the college seeking comment was not returned Thursday. In addition to Miller’s arrest, federal investigators are seeking a warrant to search the Cathedral Bible College campus.
Investigators this week interviewed eight Cathedral Bible College students who “described a pervasive climate of fear in which their legal status as non-immigrant students was in constant jeopardy, at the sole discretion of Dr. Miller, who threatened expulsion and therefore termination of their legal presence in the United States for noncompliance with his demands,” according to an affidavit included with the complaint.
The students told investigators that the classes offered at Cathedral Bible College “were not real” and the main focus of the school is having students work full-time hours at the campus and at Miller’s home, according to the affidavit. 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 purportedly offers degrees in theology, divinity, Christian counseling, Christian ministry and a diploma in Bible studies. The college maintains a satellite campus at the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base for American and former military students.
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 schools 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_