A white restaurant manager in South Carolina has been indicted for allegedly enslaving a black worker with development delays for five years and using physical abuse to force him to work as a buffet cook.
The indictment unsealed Wednesday charged Bobby Paul Edwards, a 52-year-old manager at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C., with one count of forced labor.
Federal authorities accused Edwards of using force, threats and physical restraints to compel Christopher Smith, 39, to work at the restaurant from September 2009 to October 2014, the New York Post reported.
An attorney for Smith filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 against Edwards, the restaurant and its owner, Ernest Edwards, who is the accused’s brother.
According to WMBF, Smith began working at the restaurant when he was 12 years old as a bus boy and doing some cooking. Smith – who suffers from mild delayed cognitive development – claims the abuse began in 2010.
“He would beat me with belts and all that,” he told the news station in 2015. “Take the tongs to the grease on my neck.”
Additional, Edwards allegedly choked, slapped, punched and called Smith “the N-word repeatedly,” his attorney claims. Additionally, Smith earned less than $3,000 per year.
Geneane Caines, whose daughter-in-law worked at the restaurant at the time, told WMBF that employees feared telling authorities of the abuse. She became an advocate for Smith.
“Customers that were going in there would hear stuff and they didn’t know what was going on, and they would ask the waitress, and the waitresses were so scared of Bobby, they wouldn’t tell them then what it was,” she said.
In late 2014 Edwards was arrested on a state charge of second-degree assault and battering, which is still pending, the Post and Courier reported.
On Wednesday, Edwards pleaded not guilty to one count of forced labor and was ordered held without bail.
Smith said he wants Edwards punished.
“I want him to go to prison, and I want to be there when he go,” Smith told WMBF.
If convicted of forced labor, Edwards faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and mandatory restitution.