‘Abusive enslavement’: SC man gets 10 years for forcing disabled man to work 100 hours a week at restaurant with no pay

A South Carolina man was sentenced on Wednesday to 10 years in prison for forcing a man with an intellectual disability to work more than 100 hours a week at a restaurant with no pay. 

Bobby Paul Edwards, 54, of Conway, South Carolina, pleaded guilty on June 4, 2018 to one count of forced labor for coercing the African-American man with an “intellectual disability to work extensive hours at a restaurant for no pay,” according to a press release from the Department of Justice.

U.S. District Court Judge R. Bryan Harwell sentenced Edwards to 10 years in prison and ordered him to pay $272,952.96 in restitution to the victim, the DOJ said. 

Edwards was manager of the J&J Cafeteria, where he allegedly enslaved victim John Christopher Smith for 5 years, according to the Washington Post. Smith had worked at the small-town diner since he was 12 years old, the report said.

Edwards subjected the victim to “physical and emotional abuse whenever the victim made a mistake or failed to work fast enough,” the release said. 

“The defendant beat the victim with a belt, fists, and pots and pans. 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 DOJ said. 

A concerned resident notified state authorities of the defendant’s abuse, after which the victim was removed from the situation in October 2014, according to the DOJ. 

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “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, “For stealing his victim’s freedom and wages, Mr. Edwards has earned every day of his sentence.” 

“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.

Between 2009 and 2014, the defendant used violence and other coercive means to compel the victim to work for more than 100 hours a week for no pay at a restaurant managed by the defendant, the release said. 

“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. We understand human trafficking takes many forms and we encourage anyone with information related to these crimes to contact the FBI,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jody Norris.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.