CONWAY, S.C. — A South Carolina restaurant manager convicted of forcing a black man with intellectual disabilities to work for up to 18 hours a day without pay has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The Justice Department announced Wednesday that cafeteria manager Bobby Paul Edwards, 54, was convicted of forced labor, sentenced to federal prison and mandated to pay nearly $273,000 in restitution to Christopher Smith.
"For stealing his victim's freedom and wages, Mr. Edwards has earned every day of his sentence," Sherri A. Lydon, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina said. "The U.S. Attorney's Office will not tolerate forced or exploitative labor in South Carolina, and we are grateful to the watchful citizen and our partners in law enforcement who put a stop to this particularly cruel violence."
Officials said that between 2009 and 2014, Edwards began managing the Conway eatery where Smith had worked since he was 12 years old.
Edwards pleaded guilty last year to one count of forced labor. He admitted to using violence, threats and intimidation to coerce Smith to work more than 100 hours a week without pay.
The Justice Department said that Edwards intimidated Smith into working without benefits, keeping him from speaking with family, hitting him with kitchen items and using racial slurs toward him.
He also tortured Smith when he made a mistake or didn't work fast enough. On one occasion, Edwards reportedly dipped metal tongs into hot grease and burned the victim's neck.
It wasn't until Oct. 2014, when a concerned resident reported Edwards, that Smith was removed from enslavement.
"This abusive enslavement of a vulnerable person is shocking. The FBI is always vigilantly searching for these offenses and stands ready to bring perpetrators to justice and help victims reclaim their lives. We understand human trafficking takes many forms, and we encourage anyone with information related to these crimes to contact the FBI," said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jody Norris.
© 2020 Associated Press