CONWAY, S.C. – A South Carolina restaurant manager has been ordered held without bond on charges of abusing and enslaving a mentally challenged employee, according to information released by federal authorities.
Bobby Paul Edwards, 52, of Conway pleaded not guilty to one count of forced labor, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Edwards used abuse and threats to force John Christopher Smith, 39, to work as a J&J Cafeteria cook from 2009 until 2014, authorities said.
Court documents describe beatings with a belt, choking, slapping, punching with a closed fist and burning with tongs used in hot grease.
Smith has been diagnosed with delayed cognitive development that results in intellectual functioning significantly below average. He filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 against Edwards and the restaurant owner, saying he wasn't paid or given time off or benefits.
The lawsuit, which has not been resolved, also accused Edwards of repeated abuse, saying he hit Smith with objects including a frying pan and forced him to work, to the point the man was so weak he had to be carried home.
Saying some witnessed the alleged abuse, the lawsuit noted that Edwards went after Smith with a belt buckle for being too slow to replenish food items on the buffet line.
"Plaintiff was heard crying like a child and yelling, 'No, Bobby, please!'" according to the suit, which accused the cafeteria's owner of knowing about the abuse but doing nothing to stop it.
Edwards' attorney didn't respond to requests for comment. State assault charges against him are still pending.
The indictment outlining the charges against Edwards was sealed last week by a federal magistrate, who has not released it to the public.
Conway is about 10 miles (16 kilometers) northwest of Myrtle Beach.