A white restaurant manager in South Carolina enslaved a black worker for five years, using physical abuse and threats to force the developmentally challenged man to work as a buffet cook, federal authorities said.
An indictment unsealed Wednesday charged Bobby Paul Edwards, a 52-year-old manager at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, with one count of forced labor. Federal prosecutors allege that Edwards “used force, threats of force, physical restraint and coercion” to compel Christopher Smith, 39, to work at the restaurant from September 2009 to October 2014.
Details of the alleged abuse Smith suffered at the restaurant emerged in 2015 when his attorneys in Charleston filed a federal lawsuit against Edwards, the business and its owner, Ernest Edwards, who is Bobby Paul Edwards’ brother, the Post and Courier reports.
Smith, who suffers from mild delayed cognitive development, began working at the restaurant when he was just 12, starting out by busing tables and doing some cooking. He liked the job until Edwards started abusing him in 2010, he told WMBF in 2015.
“He would beat me with belts and all that,” Smith told the station. “Take the tongs to the grease on my neck.”
Court documents also describe assaults that included choking, slapping and closed-fist punches — all while his attorneys claim he earned less than $3,000 per year and was “called the N-word repeatedly,” according to the Post and Courier.
Smith, who claims to have scars on his neck to prove some of the alleged abuse, said he never told anyone out of fear for his safety. A woman whose daughter-in-law worked at the restaurant at the time and became an advocate for Smith said other employees feared telling authorities.
“Well, customers that were going in there would hear stuff and they didn’t know what was going on, and they would ask the waitresses, and the waitresses were so scared of Bobby, they wouldn’t tell them then what it was,” Geneane Caines told WMBF.
Caines eventually reported the abuse and Edwards was arrested in late 2014 on a state charge of second-degree assault and battery, which is still pending, the Post and Courier reports.
Edwards pleaded not guilty Wednesday to one count of forced labor and was ordered held without bail. A message seeking comment from his attorney, Scott Bellamy, was not immediately returned early Thursday.
Smith has become a “very happy, very outgoing” person since leaving the restaurant in late 2014, according to Caines. For his part, Smith said he wants to see Edwards punished for what he endured.
“I want him to go to prison, and I want to be there when he go,” Smith told WMBF.
Smith’s attorney, David Aylor, said Smith was “very appreciative” of the efforts by federal prosecutors and believes that “justice will be served” in the case, he told the Post and Courier.
If convicted of forced labor, Edwards faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and mandatory restitution.
Source: NY Post (Joshua Rhett Miller)
Photo Credit: Horry County Sheriff’s Department
Photo Credit: News To Me Blog – AJC.com
Photo Credit: SecEd