A South Carolina man has been accused of holding a mentally disabled man as a slave through the use of psychological and mental abuse in order to force him into labor at the restaurant he managed, KTLA 5 reported.
An indictment released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice states that Bobby Paul Edwards, 52, is accused of “using force, physical restraint, and coercion” among other equally horrifying tactics, forcing the man to work there for five years. It began in September 2009 at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, which was relatively close to the famous South Carolina resort Myrtle Beach, according to officials.
The DOJ hasn’t officially released the name of the victim. However, federal prosecutors told the Washington Post that he is a 39-year-old black man named John Christopher Smith, and he has a mild cognitive disability.
Smith had already been working at the restaurant for more than 20 years as a buffet cook when Edwards became the manager. In a previous lawsuit filed against Edwards, Smith said the enjoyable job “turned into a nightmare.” Smith alleged that Edwards “would use racial slurs against him, behaved like a slave driver and assaulted him away from customers’ eyes in the freezer.” And what’s worse is that those are just a handful of many frightening allegations.
People on the J&J Yelp page have accused the restaurant of “improper dealings” with employees multiple times, dating all the way back to 2014. Smith himself told South Carolina TV station WMBF that he had been abused and tortured for several years by Edwards. It was then that people came together to help him leave the restaurant and find somewhere safe to live and work. Edwards was arrested around that time, but charged with 2nd-degree assault, which is only a misdemeanor.
Edwards has had several run-ins with the law, but this is the most serious one. His long rap sheet, according to Horry County court records, contains charges of burglary, assault, shoplifting and resisting arrest.
Edwards was arrested Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to forced labor, according to court records. He is currently charged with one count of “attempt to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking.” If he is convicted on that charge, prosecutors say he’s looking at a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and mandatory restitution.
The FBI investigation on J&J is ongoing.