A restaurant manager in South Carolina has been sentenced to 10 years in prison after forcing a mentally disabled Black man to work 100 hours per week for over five years without pay.
53-year-old Bobby Paul Edwards, who is white, worked as a manager to John Christopher Smith at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina as Blavity previously reported. Edwards regularly used violence, threats and racial slurs toward Smith.
The U.S. Department of Justice released a statement Wednesday and announced Edwards' sentence, which also orders him to pay $272,952.96 in restitution to the victim in addition to prison time.
“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 of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “The Department of Justice will continue to investigate, prosecute, and convict human traffickers involved in forced labor, seeking justice on behalf of their victims.”
U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon for the District of South Carolina said Edwards has earned every day in prison for his crime — stealing the victim’s freedom and wages.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office will not tolerate forced or exploitative labor in South Carolina and we are grateful to the watchful citizen and our partners in law enforcement who put a stop to this particularly cruel violence,” Lydon said.
The watchful citizen noticed the abuse and notified authorities, who removed Smith from the restaurant in 2014.
According to court documents, Edwards physically and emotionally abused the employee when he made a mistake or didn't work fast enough, beating him with a belt, fists and pots and pans. The court also describes an incident where Edwards dipped metal tongs into hot grease and burned the man's neck.
“This abusive enslavement of a vulnerable person is shocking. The FBI is always vigilantly searching for these offenses and stands ready to bring perpetrators to justice and help victims reclaim their lives," FBI agent Jody Norris said in a statement. "We understand human trafficking takes many forms and we encourage anyone with information related to these crimes to contact the FBI.”
In a 2017 interview with WPDE, Smith said he worked at the cafeteria before Edwards took over as manager and started abusing him.
"I wanted to get out of there a long time ago," Smith told WPDE. "But I didn't have nobody I could go to."