BURNET COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – The sheriff of a rural Missouri town says he contacted Texas officials about 550 miles away to give them a heads-up about a nonprofit that was likely relocating to its county.
Now, about a month later, Burnet County officials say they’ve removed eight boys from Joshua Home following a multi-agency investigation into allegations of abuse, neglect, labor violations, fraud, licensing violations and human trafficking at a 10-acre property located in the 2500 block of Farm to Market 243 West near Bertram. A double-wide trailer and two portable buildings were subject to search, after a search warrant was issued on Tuesday.
The facility under investigation is in no way associated or affiliated with similarly-named His Joshua House in Llano County, which is a sober living home for adult men.
The boys at Joshua Home, who now have emergency protective orders, range between 10 and 17 years old and are temporarily in the custody of Child Protective Services until they can be reunited with their parents, all of which live out of state.
Authorities have spent weeks conducting a joint investigation into the unlicensed home, which “purports to be a residential home for troubled boys” and is affiliated with the nonprofit The Joshua Home Ministries, according to a news release from the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office. None of the boys who were removed from the home are related to the nonprofit’s staff.
In a press conference Friday, Burnet County Sheriff Calvin Boyd said, “There’s no charges at this time. I’m confident there will be.”
The Burnet County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Ranger Service, Texas Department of Public Safety’s Criminal Investigations and DPS Highway Patrol executed a search warrant Wednesday at the home, seeking video and audio recordings from inside and outside the property.
According to the search warrant, officials are looking to seize, “implements and instruments used to commit the crime of human trafficking through forced child labor, including but not limited to mowers, edgers, weeding, machines, dollies, trailers and any other machines or implements used for lawn mowing services.”
Officials are also seeking business records for moving, mowing and lawn care services owned or operated by Garry Wiggins, who also runs Joshua Home.
Neighbors next door told KXAN they would see the boys outside and just figured a couple families had moved in.
“We didn’t think it was a concern or anything to raise any kind of questions because they were always laughing and running through the fields chasing the livestock, right? We were outside but nobody ever came to the fence and said ‘hey, we need help’ or anything,” one neighbor said. “It’s kind of scary ’cause… I mean something like that is so close to home. But then there’s a lot of good here but there’s a lot of bad as well.”
Family member speaks out
Andrew Nasiatka tells KXAN his 11-year-old brother was staying in the Joshua Home after their mother passed away.
Problems in the home led to Nasiatka and his father deciding the 11-year-old would be in a better place in the boys home. He entered the home in December, when it was still operating in Missouri.
“My concern is that the story that’s being told is not the truth,” he said.
Nasiatka says he visited the Joshua Home in Bertram for the first time, just a couple weeks ago.
“I see nothing in him that raises red flags, I don’t see those things,” he said of the operator.
When KXAN asked Nasiatka about allegations of child labor, he said, “For my family’s standpoint, I have no issue with my brother helping someone who’s helping him…I look at it just like a regular home with chores.”
Nasiatka said, if it were not for the investigation, he wouldn’t have taken his brother out because of the growth he’s seen not only in him, but his family.
“I really can’t thank God enough for that home that was open 8 months,” he said. “Just because you see smoke, doesn’t mean that there is a fire started by a man. Sometimes the smoke is from the oven and other things that produce smoke.”
Joshua Home’s in Other States
Authorities in Alabama and Missouri had previously looked into Wiggins and his nonprofits in recent years, although no charges had been filed related to his work, according to KXAN’s sister stations in those states.
Wiggins’ attorney, Eddie Shell, said none of the eight boys who were interviewed by CPS made any accusations that would warrant criminal charges.
“The parents of all of the boys have always been informed of the condition of the boys and the whereabouts of the boys,” Shell told KXAN. “Anything that the Wiggins’ have done, They have done it with the permission of the parents.”
Shell said it’s possible that media reports out of Missouri prompted the local investigation. He said they moved to Bertram because the owner’s wife had family there and some land.
McDonald (Missouri) County Sheriff Michael Hall told KXAN on Friday that he contacted Texas officials in June to let them know the home would likely be locating to that jurisdiction.
“I just wanted to let Texas know what they had coming, if they had something they could check into,” Hall said Friday afternoon. He said the facility isn’t state-run, which wasn’t a violation there because in Missouri it’s legal for a religious organization to operate a facility, like Joshua’s Home, without a license. But, because Texas requirements could be different, Hall said wanted to make sure officials were aware.
Hall said they investigated the Joshua Home after parents of two of the boys at the facility reached out with concerns about the children’s welfare. But, he said, no charges were filed since they spoke with the boys who didn’t indicate any signs of abuse or other wrongdoing.
“We never got further to look into it,” Hall said. “They moved.”
“I’m not sure what brought him to Bertram, Texas, but we’re not gonna let him get away with anything. If anything’s going wrong, we’re gonna prosecute,” Sheriff Boyd said.
Now, local investigators are asking anyone with information about the Joshua Home, Joshua Home Ministries, Joshua Home Lawn Care, Joshua Home Movers or JJW Home Services to contact the Burnet County Sheriff’s Office at 512-756-8080 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.