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White restaurant owner pleads guilty to enslaving, abusing mentally challenged black employee

Bobby Paul Edwards, 53, of Conway, South Carolina, pleaded guilty to forced labor for his treatment of a mentally challenged black restaurant worker. He also forced the victim to work more than 100 hours a week without pay. (Image source: Horry County Sheriff's Office)

A white South Carolina restaurant manager has pleaded guilty to abusing and enslaving a mentally challenged black employee, according to published reports.

What did he do?

Bobby Paul Edwards, 53, was charged with one count of forced labor after admitting he used “violence, threats, isolation and intimidation against a black man with an intellectual disability,” Fox News reported. Edwards also forced the victim to work more than 100 hours a week without pay.

Edwards managed J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach, from 2009 to 2014, according to the report. The victim, John Christopher Smith, began working at the restaurant at age 12. Smith started off washing dishes and doing other odd jobs.

Eventually, Edwards stopped paying Smith. He also used abusive language, physical abuse, threats and racial epithets, the report states. Edwards also beat Smith with a belt, punched him, hit him with pots and pans, and burned his back with hot tongs if he made mistakes or worked too slowly, the report states.

Smith’s story went public in 2015, when he told WMBF-TV about the abuse.

“I want him to go to prison, and I want to be there when he go,” said Smith, who was then 37 years old.

Customers were suspicious that Smith was being mistreated but waitresses wouldn’t discuss it because they were afraid they’d lose their jobs, the report states.

Who finally reported this?

Geneane Caines, whose daughter-in-law was a waitress at the restaurant, eventually contacted police and took Smith to an NAAC office to get help. Police escorted Smith from the restaurant in 2014 and Edwards was arrested about a month later, the TV station reported.

Edwards faces a fine of up to $250,000, Fox News reported. He will also be forced to pay restitution to Smith, and the amount will be set at his sentencing hearing.

“Human trafficking through forced labor can happen on farms, in homes, and as today’s case shows — in public places, such as restaurants,” Attorney General John Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division Gore said in a statement. He also said combating forced labor human trafficking “is one of the highest priorities of this Justice Department.”

Edwards was previously arrested in 2014 on a state charge of second-degree assault and battery, according to the Post and Courier.

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