A White South Carolina restaurant manager who was arrested and indicted for violently forcing a disabled Black man to work very long hours for free has pleaded guilty, the U.S. Department of Justice reports and will be sentenced to federal prison.
As rolling out previously reported, Bobby Paul Edwards of Conway, South Carolina, was sued by a mentally handicapped African American man after he’d been repeatedly subjected to “severe physical harm” for over five years. The lawsuit cited 14 cases of action including slavery, assault and battery, false imprisonment, violations of the Fair Labor and Wages Act and various other forms of discrimination.
Four years after the Black victim was rescued from the restaurant by authorities, the modern-day slave master faces up to 20 years in prison for the heinous act. Edwards, 53, pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor, the New York Times reports.
In his plea deal with prosecutors, the restaurant manager has admitted to employing various forms of violence, threats, isolation and intimidation to make the African American man with an intellectual disability, John Christopher Smith, 40, to work over 100 hours every week without any financial compensation.
The crimes in question took place at the J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, where the victim began working at the age of 12.
The NY Times wrote that Edwards began managing the restaurant in 2009, which is near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. After being employed there for a stretch of time, Edwards suddenly increased Smith’s duties to work over 100 hours per week. Edwards also stopped paying Smith and began using violence and threats to compel Smith to continue working.
Court documents state Edwards used various forms of mental and physical torture to compel Smith to abide by his orders, including abusive language, racial epithets, threats, and acts of violence. This included beating Smith with a belt, punching him with his fists, hitting him with pots and pans, and burning his bare neck with hot tongs as punishment or to make Smith work faster.
The abuse lasted until October 2014, when authorities stormed the restaurant and removed the victim after receiving numerous complaints.
“Human trafficking through forced labor can happen on farms, in homes, and as today’s case shows — in public places, such as restaurants,” said John Gore, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department.
“Edwards abused an African American man with intellectual disabilities by coercing him to work long hours in a restaurant without pay,” Gore added. “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 up to 20 years in prison for forced labor, a $250K maximum fine and mandatory restitution to the victim.
As for the victim who was traumatized, probably for life, by the ordeal, Smith said he cannot wait to see Edwards get what he deserves.
“I want him to go to prison,” Smith told WMBF-TV, an NBC affiliate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “And I want to be there when he [goes].”