A couple who ran religious boarding schools in several states have been indicted on human trafficking charges by Texas authorities a year after eight children were removed from their Burnet County home.
Gary Wiggins, 49, and Meghann Wiggins, 34, have each been indicted on eight counts of human trafficking by a Burnet County grand jury, according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com.
Following allegations of neglect, abuse, and human trafficking, investigators executed a search warrant on the Wiggins’ Joshua Home boarding school last summer, which “yielded quite a bit of evidence,” Chris Jett of the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office told Oxygen.com.
“Finally, indictments were handed down this month,” he added.
Jett said that investigators believe the children at the boarding school, ages 10 to 17, were forced into working for a lawn care and moving company in the nonprofit's name.
“The allegations were that [the Wiggins’] were accepting these kids as sort of a ‘tough love’ boys home but they were forcing the children to work for their lawn care service, for which the owners of the boys home were being paid, and the boys were not being paid,” Jett said.
Jett added that the children were placed in the custody of Child Protective Services following the 2018 search warrant.
The Wiggins’ reportedly have a history of operating similar religiously geared boarding schools in Alabama and Missouri, where the couple previously lived. The New York Daily News reported the couple was previously accused of starving children and forcing them to endure solitary confinement.
“We received a heads up from another state that they were looking into this boys home and when they started looking at them they picked up and moved here,” Jett added. “We started hearing some things that concerned us.”
McDonald County Sheriff Michael Hall, confirmed this an interview with KXAN-TV.
"I just wanted to let Texas know what they had coming, if they had something they could check into," Hall told the local television station.
The Wiggins’ fled Missouri shortly before law enforcement there could investigate similar accusations at their facility, known then as Blessed Home Academy, the Dallas Morning News reported.
Former students of the Wiggins have since spoken out about the alleged torments they suffered.
"’I'm going to get the demon out of you and make you straight,’” Lucas Greenfield, one the Wiggins’ former pupils, recalled being told, according to ABC’s 20/20. Greenfield said his parents sent him to the home, where he allegedly suffered beatings, because he was gay.
The couple was arrested in Alabama following their Aug. 6 indictment. They waived extradition and were booked at Burnet County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 18. They were released the following day on a $100,000 bond.
But Austin Shell, the couple’s criminal defense attorney, was adamant the Wiggins’ are innocent — and that everything that happened at Joshua Home was done with parental consent.
“They’re not guilty of these allegations,” Shell told Oxygen.com.
“The Wiggins’ behaved appropriately with these children and did nothing criminal whatsoever,” he added. “It takes very little to be charged with a serious offense in this day and age. The Wiggins have not had an opportunity to have their voice heard and they will at trial.”
Shell said a trial date hasn’t yet been yet. He declined to comment on the allegations against the couple in Missouri or Alabama.
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