The manager of a restaurant in Conway, South Carolina is accused of forcing a mentally disabled buffet cook to work for him by using physical abuse and coercion against him.
The defendant is Bobby Paul Edwards, age 52, the manager and co-owner of J&J Cafeteria. He has been indicted on one count of forced labor for alleged abuses taking place between 2010 and 2014. He has plead not guilty.
The alleged victim is John Christopher Smith, age 39. He had worked for the cafeteria since he was 12 years old, working his way up from busboy to buffet manager. He says that working there was a happy experience for many years, but that Edwards’ behavior took a sudden turn for the violent starting in 2010.
Edwards previously received misdemeanor charges of second degree assault and battery against Smith back in November 2014, after the police received a complaint claiming the abuse was taking place.
Though no details are known about this current indictment, a civil suit filed on Smith’s behalf from 2015 claims that Edwards would hit Smith in the head with a frying pan, use tongs to burn him with hot grease and regularly use racial slurs when speaking to him. Other court documents claim that he once beat Smith with a belt in the back of the restaurant, during which Smith was heard crying “No, Bobby, please!” He also supposedly forced Smith to live in a nearby apartment that was infested with cockroaches.
If convicted, Edwards will face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. He will also have to pay restitution to Smith for all the years in which he was underpaid. (Smith is said to have received less than $3,000 per year, despite working 18 hour shifts for six days each week.)