A white restaurant manager in South Carolina admitted to enslaving an intellectually disabled black man, forcing him to work more than 100 hours a week without pay while brutally abusing him.
Bobby Paul Edwards, from Conway, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to one count of forced labor, according to the Department of Justice.
Edwards, 53, became the manager of J&J Cafeteria in 2009, according to the Post and Courier in Charleston, and that's when the abuse of buffet cook Christopher Smith started. Smith worked in the restaurant since he was 12 and was paid in cash until Edwards stopped giving him money.
Between 2009 and 2014, according to court documents, Edwards used threats, isolation and intimidation to force Smith to work. He used abusive language and racial slurs, beat Smith with a belt, punched him, hit him with pots and pans and burned him. He'd use violence to make Smith work faster or to punish him when he made mistakes.
This went on until October 2014 when authorities got complaints about the abuse and took Smith away from the restaurant.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said this kind of behavior is more prevalent than people think.
“Human trafficking through forced labor can happen on farms, in homes, and as today’s case shows – in public places, such as restaurants,” Gore said. “Edwards abused an African-American man with intellectual disabilities by coercing him to work long hours in a restaurant without pay. Combating human trafficking by forced labor is one of the highest priorities of this Justice Department and today’s guilty plea reflects our commitment to seeking justice on behalf of victims of human trafficking.”
Edwards faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, a quarter-million dollar fine and mandatory restitution to Smith. He'll be sentenced at a later date.
[Photo: Horry County Sheriff's Office]