Boys home operators indicted for human trafficking

From staff reports

Just a little more than a year after Burnet County authorities raided a Bertram area boys home, a grand jury has indicted the owners of the facility for human trafficking.

According to a press release issued Monday, Aug. 19, a Burnet County grand jury on Aug. 6 handed up indictments against 49-year-old Gary Dwayne Wiggins and 34-year-old Meghann Shereen Wiggins, the married couple who ran the Joshua Home, which was reported to be a residential home for troubled boys and which is affiliated with a nonprofit organization known as The Joshua Home Ministries.

Gary Wiggins is charged with one count of trafficking of persons under the age of 18 for prostitution or forced labor, while Meghann Wiggins is charged with trafficking of persons: continuous. Both are first degree felonies punishable by five to 99 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. The couple was arrested a few days later without incident in Escambia County, Alabama.

They waived extradition and were transported to the Burnet County Jail where, as of Aug. 19, they remained in custody. A bond amount of $100,000 has been set for each. These charges will be prosecuted by the 33rd/424th District Attorney’s Office in Burnet County.

The Wigginses have retained Austin Shell of Shell & Shell as their attorney. Shell said the allegations against his clients were first raised in May and June 2018. He said they waived extradition “so they could come down to Texas and fight these allegations.”

“We're going to set this for a jury trial as soon as possible because they are innocent of these allegations,” Shell added. “It takes very little to be indicted in this day and age.”

The charges against Gary and Meghann Wiggins are the result of what authorities are calling “an “extensive investigation” of the Joshua Home on allegations of abuse, neglect, labor violations, fraud, licensing violations, and human trafficking.

Last year, Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd said his deputies began investigating the organization and became concerned that teenage boys at the home were being used illegally as labor for several affiliated organizations, including Joshua Home Lawn Care, Joshua Home Movers and JJW Home Services.

On July 25, 2018, investigators from the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Ranger Service, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Criminal Investigations (CID), and DPS Highway Patrol executed a search warrant at the Joshua Home, located in the 2500 block of Ranch to Market Road 243 West near Bertram.

Other agencies who participated in an investigative, support, or advisory role included the Texas Attorney General’s Office, the Texas Comptroller’s Office, the Department of Health and Human Services Child Care Licensing division, the Burnet County Attorney’s Office, the Hill Country Children’s Advocacy Center, Child Protective Services (CPS) and the 33rd/424th District Attorney.

Information and evidence uncovered during the execution of the search warrant led to the issuance of emergency orders for the removal of all eight juvenile male residents from the facility. The boys ranged in age from 10 to 17 years old. They were taken into the temporary CPS custody and have since been reunited with their parents, all of whom reside out of state. None of the removed children were relatives of the directors or staff of the Joshua Home.

This is not the first run-in with the law that Gary Wiggins, has had in the past several years. The Joshua Home, then under the name Blessed Hope Boys Academy, was formerly located in Robertsdale, Alabama.

According to AL News and WBRC FOX News, in December 2016, the facility was raided by local law enforcement and 22 boys were removed following reports of child abuse that included withholding food, locking children in closets and forcing exercise for hours at a time.

Joshua Home and Joshua Home Ministries has no affiliation at all with His Joshua House, a Kingsland faith-based nonprofit drug and alcohol recovery house for men.

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