Manager sentenced to 10 years for enslaving black employee

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A white restaurant manager in South Carolina was sentenced to 10 years in prison this week after pleading guilty in 2018 to enslaving a black employee with an intellectual disability.  Prosecutors said Bobby Paul Edwards admitted to using violence, threats, isolation and intimidation to force employee John Christopher Smith to work as a cook at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, for more than 100 hours a week without pay between 2009 and 2014.

According to the Justice Department, Edwards, 54, pleaded guilty in June 2018 to one count of forced labor.

On Wednesday, the former manager was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay Smith nearly $273,000 in restitution by U.S. District Court Judge R. Bryan Harwell, the Justice Department said in a statement. 

"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."  

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This undated photo provided by the J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Conway, S.C shows Bobby Paul Edwards, a South Carolina restaurant manager who has been ordered held without bond on charges of abusing and enslaving a mentally challenged employee, according to information released by federal authorities. Edwards, 52, of Conway, pleaded not guilty to one count of forced labor, federal prosecutors said Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017. J. Reuben Long Detention Center via AP

Court documents describe beatings with a belt, choking, slapping, punching with a closed fist and burning with tongs used in hot grease.

In one instance, Edwards allegedly hit Smith with objects including a frying pan, to the point that he was so weak he needed to be carried home.

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Smith has been diagnosed with delayed cognitive development, but had worked at the restaurant for years before Edwards started in 2008. In a lawsuit against Edwards and the owner of the restaurant, who is Edwards' brother, Smith said he wasn't paid or given time off or benefits.

"For stealing his victim's freedom and wages, Mr. Edwards has earned every day of his sentence," said U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon for the District of South Carolina. "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."

Story continues

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