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The Journal Gazette

Friday, October 13, 2017 1:00 am

Worker claims he was enslaved

Washington Post

A white restaurant manager accused of enslaving and abusing a mentally disabled black man has been indicted by a federal grand jury in South Carolina on a charge of forced labor.

Federal prosecutors say Bobby Paul Edwards used “force, threats of force, physical restraint, and coercion” to compel John Christopher Smith to work as a buffet cook for more than five years.

Edwards, 52, was arrested this week and pleaded not guilty. The full title of the charge is “attempt to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking.” It carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines.

Details about Smith's alleged enslavement were documented in a federal lawsuit civil attorneys filed on his behalf in late 2015.

Smith, a 39-year-old with a mild cognitive disability, had worked for more than two decades without issue at the J&J Cafeteria, washing dishes, busing tables and later cooking food. But when Edwards' boss took over as manager in 2010, Smith said, the job turned into a nightmare, the lawsuit said.

Edwards would force Smith to work dawn until late into the night, seven days a week, with little or no pay, no benefits and no vacation time, Smith alleged.

Smith described Edwards like a slave driver. He said the manager would call him racial slurs, and threaten to “stomp” his throat and beat him “until people would not recognize him.”

Edwards also assaulted him regularly, the lawsuit said. In one instance, Smith said, Edwards dipped a pair of tongs into hot frying grease and scalded the back of his neck.

All the while, Smith lived in squalor behind the restaurant in a roach-infested apartment owned by Edwards, according to the complaint.