A white South Carolina man will spend the next 10 years in prison after subjecting a developmentally disabled Black man to repeated abuse and forcing him to work “more than 100 hours with no pay” at the restaurant he managed.
Bobby Paul Edwards, 54, was sentenced to 10 years after pleading guilty to one count of forced labor against employee Christoper Smith, the Justice Department announced in a statement Wednesday.
Edwards, who ran J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C., was also ordered to pay $272,952.96 in restitution to Smith after prosecutors say he “used violence and other coercive means to compel” the victim to work an undue amount of hours without compensation.
“It is almost inconceivable that instances of forced labor endure in this country to this day – a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said.
Federal officials said Smith, 41, suffered years of “physical and emotional abuse” at the hands of Edwards, who lashed out “whenever the victim made a mistake or failed to work fast enough.” Edwards is also accused of beating Smith with his fists, as well as kitchen items.
On one occasion, prosecutors said the defendant “dipped metal tongs into hot grease and burned the victim’s neck. [Edwards] further yelled at the victim and used racial slurs to belittle and demean him.”
Smith was employed as a cook at the cafeteria, where he’d worked since he was 12 years old. His duties increased significantly after Edwards became manager in 2009, and the physical abuse began soon afterward.
The disabled man said he stayed quiet about what was going on because he was scared. It wasn’t until a concerned resident alerted state authorities of the abuse that Smith was removed from the restaurant in 2014.
“I want him to go to prison,” Smith told WBMF after Edwards’ arrest. “And I want to be there when he go.”
Edwards, whose brother owns the restaurant, was indicted by a grand jury in October 2016. FBI Special Agent in Charge Jody Norris said the cafeteria manager’s “abusive enslavement of a vulnerable person” was shocking.
“The FBI is always vigilantly searching for these offenses and stands ready to bring perpetrators to justice and help victims reclaim their lives,” Norris continued. “We understand human trafficking takes many forms and we encourage anyone with information related to these crimes to contact the FBI.”