A white restaurant manager in South Carolina has been indicted by a federal grand jury after being accused of enslaving a disabled Black worker for five years.
According to the Post Courier, Bobby Paul Edwards, 52, was charged with forced labor by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Wednesday for enslaving employee Christopher Smith at a Conway eatery.
Edwards could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison for the felony charge. Edwards was arrested Tuesday and pleaded not guilty during a hearing on Wednesday.
Smith worked for 23 years at J&J Cafeteria, but at the end of his time working as a buffet cook, social workers were tipped off about the horrible conditions Smith was forced to endure. Smith was rescued during a field visit by the workers who received the information.
According to prosecutors, Edwards "used force, threats of force, physical restraint and coercion" to get smith to work 18-hour shifts, six days a week.
Smith, who has an intellectual disability, was allegedly hit with a frying pan, burned with grease-covered tongs and beaten “while being called the N-word repeatedly,” lawyers said. For all of his labor, Smith was paid less than $3,000 annually.
Word of Smith’s alleged abuse spread in 2015 after his attorneys in Charleston filed a federal lawsuit against Edwards, the business and its owner, Ernest J. Edwards, the suspect's brother.
Edwards had already been arrested on a state charge of second-degree assault and battery, which remains pending, but the FBI and civil rights prosecutors from the Department of Justice also started probing the case.
In addition to possible prison time if he's convicted, Edwards would face paying mandatory restitution to Smith.
(Photo: Horry County Sheriff’s Department)