Restaurant Manager Who Enslaved and Tortured Employee with Disability Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison


A South Carolina restaurant manager was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Wednesday after pleading guilty in 2018 to abusing an employee with a disability between 2009 and 2014.

Bobby Paul Edwards, 54, ran a buffet restaurant called J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, CBS News reported.

According to prosecutors, Edwards admitted to forcing employee John Christopher Smith to work for more than 100 hours a week as a cook at the restaurant.

According to WPDE, Smith had worked at the restaurant for years before Edwards took over and the abuse began.

CBS reported that the manager used “violence, threats, isolation and intimidation” on Smith.

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U.S. District Court Judge R. Bryan Harwell ordered Edwards to pay over $272,000 in restitution to Smith in addition to the prison sentence, the Department of Justice announced in a news release.

Edwards pleaded guilty in June 2018 to “one count of forced labor for coercing an African-American man with an intellectual disability to work extensive hours at a restaurant for no pay.”

“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,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in the release.

“The Department of Justice will continue to investigate, prosecute, and convict human traffickers involved in forced labor, seeking justice on behalf of their victims.”

Details from court documents depict a grisly series of abuses at the restaurant, according to CBS.

Edwards beat Smith a belt, burned him with hot tongs and oil and in one instance hit him with a frying pan, an assault that left Smith so weak that he needed to be carried home.

Smith had been diagnosed with delayed cognitive development, a disability that resulted in his intellectual functions being “significantly below average,” CBS reported in 2018 after Edwards’ guilty plea.

“This abusive enslavement of a vulnerable person is shocking,” U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon for the District of South Carolina said in the DOJ’s news release.

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“For stealing his victim’s freedom and wages, Mr. Edwards has earned every day of his sentence.”

Smith, for his part, told WMBF-TV in 2015 that he wanted Edwards put behind bars.

“I want him to go to prison,” he said.

“And I want to be there when he go.”

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