A white South Carolina restaurant manager has pleaded guilty to abusing and enslaving a mentally challenged black employee, according to federal prosecutors.
Bobby Paul Edwards, 53, of Conway pleaded guilty Monday to one count of forced labor, according to Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the US Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and South Carolina US Attorney Sherri A Lydon.
Between 2009 and 2014, prosecutors said that he admitted using violence, threats, isolation and intimidation to compel a man with an intellectual disability to work for more than 100 hours a week without pay.
Court documents describe Edwards beating John Christopher Smith, 40, with a belt, choking, slapping, punching him with a closed fist and burning him with tongs as he worked as a J&J Cafeteria cook for five years.
Smith has been diagnosed with delayed cognitive development resulting in intellectual functioning significantly below average.
In a lawsuit against Edwards and the restaurant owner, who is Edwards’ brother, Smith said he wasn’t paid or given time off or benefits.
The suit also accused Edwards of repeated abuse, saying he hit Smith with objects including a frying pan and forced him to work, to the point that the man was so weak he had to be carried home.
‘Human trafficking through forced labor can happen on farms, in homes, and as today’s case shows — in public places, such as restaurants,’ Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said Tuesday.