The manager of a South Carolina restaurant has pleaded guilty to one federal count of forced labor, admitting to using violence and threats in order to force a mentally disabled black man to work for grueling hours without pay.
According to the Post and Courier, 53-year-old Bobby Paul Edwards, who once managed J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C., could face up to 20 years in prison for the crime. Sentencing has not yet been scheduled, but it seems that Edwards is looking for a plea agreement, part of which would require him to pay restitution to Christopher Smith, his victim.
Smith, a buffet cook at the restaurant, had been working at J&J since he was 12. His years of torment started around 2009 when Edwards started managing the restaurant. Edwards stopped paying the young man, who has an intellectual disability; forced him to work seven days a week, racking up over 100 hours; and spewed racial slurs and other threats at him.
Edwards also beat up Smith in a bid to get him to work faster, beating him with a belt, punching him, hitting him with pots and pans, and using hot tongs to burn him.
In 2015, state social workers became aware of the abuse. By the following year, Smith had filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that he had endured years of slavery at Edwards’ hand.
Edwards was later dismissed from the lawsuit, but the case remains pending against J&J Cafeteria and its owner, who is Edwards’ brother.
“Edwards abused an African-American man with intellectual disabilities by coercing him to work long hours in a restaurant without pay,” acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said, according to the Post and Courier. “Combating human trafficking by forced labor is one of the highest priorities of this Justice Department.”