A White South Carolina man was accused of threatening and using violence on one of his African-American employees and forcing him to work more than 100 hours a week without compensation, CNN reports.
Bobby Paul Edwards, 53, pleaded guilty on Monday to one count of forced labor at his Conway, SC restaurant against John Christopher Smith.
The U.S. Justice Department said that Edwards beat Smith with his belt, pots and pans, while also calling him racial slurs. The alleged incidents occurred between 2009-2014 when he served as the restaurant’s manager.
“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 told CNN on Tuesday.
Smith has learning disabilities, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ), and was afraid to lose his job. Edwards would allegedly burn Smith’s neck with hot tongs in order to make him work faster.
“Edwards abused an African-American man with intellectual disabilities by coercing him to work long hours in a restaurant without pay. Combating human trafficking by forced labor is one of the highest priorities of this Justice Department,” Gore said.
Smith told CNN affiliate WPDE that he wanted to leave “a long time ago,” but had no outside support.
“I didn’t have nobody I could go to,” he said. “I couldn’t go anywhere. I couldn’t see none of my family.”
Edwards faces a maximum fine of $250,000, 20 years in prison and would have to pay Smith when he’s sentenced.
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Teddy is a multimedia journalist who serves as the culture and political writer for EBONY. His work has appeared in NBC's Owned and Operated stations, as well as DNAInfo, which covered local neighborhood news in New York City. He received his Masters in Journalism from the Craig Newmark School of Journalism at CUNY in 2017.