White restaurant manager who enslaved black man with disability for years gets 10-year sentence

A white man from South Carolina was sentenced to 10 years in prison after federal prosecutors said he forced an African American man with an intellectual disability to work “for more than 100 hours a week for no pay” at a restaurant he managed.

According to a press release from the Justice Department, a judge handed Bobby Paul Edwards a 10-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor for forcing John Christopher Smith to work extensive hours at the restaurant, J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C.

Edwards was also ordered to pay $272,952.96 in restitution to Smith after prosecutors said he was found to have used “violence and other coercive means” to force Smith to work at the restaurant. 

Federal prosecutors said in the Wednesday announcement that Edwards would subject Smith to “physical and emotional abuse whenever the victim made a mistake or failed to work fast enough” and he would beat him with belts, fists, pots and pans at times. 

“On one occasion, he dipped metal tongs into hot grease and burned the victim’s neck. The defendant further yelled at the victim and used racial slurs to belittle and demean him,” the department said in the announcement. “After a concerned resident notified state authorities of the defendant’s abuse, the victim was removed from the situation in October 2014.”

Smith detailed similar events in an interview with a local NBC station in 2015, a year after Edwards was arrested.

“He would beat me with belts and all that,” Smith said then. “Take the tongs to the grease on my neck.”

“I want him to go to prison, and I want to be there when he go,” Smith added.

Smith told the station that the abuse by Edwards began at the restaurant in 2010. According to the outlet, the local restaurant is owned by Edwards’s brother.

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in Wednesday’s announcement that 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.”

“The Department of Justice will continue to investigate, prosecute, and convict human traffickers involved in forced labor, seeking justice on behalf of their victims,” he continued.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Jody Norris called Edwards’s “abusive enslavement of a vulnerable person” shocking in a statement.

“The FBI is always vigilantly searching for these offenses and stands ready to bring perpetrators to justice and help victims reclaim their lives,” he added. “We understand human trafficking takes many forms and we encourage anyone with information related to these crimes to contact the FBI.”

The Justice Department said the case was investigated by the FBI and the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

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Written by Alan Smith

Alan Smith

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