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CONWAY, S.C. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) — A white restaurant manager in South Carolina has been charged with enslaving a black buffet cook for at least five years, according to a federal indictment unsealed this week.

The cook, Christopher Smith, 39, alleges that he was forced to work up to seven days a week, often for 18 hours a day without breaks, brutally beaten and threatened repeatedly.

Bobby Paul Edwards, 52, is accused in the indictment of using “force, threats of force, physical restraint and coercion” to enslave Smith at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C. Conway is just inland from Myrtle Beach.

Edwards was formally charged with “attempt to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking.” He faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of the federal felony of “forced labor,” according to the U.S. attorney general’s Civil Rights Division. He also would have to pay up to a $250,000 fine and full restitution to Smith.

The attorney general notes that the indictment is “merely an accusation” and that Edwards is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

Allegations of a brutal enslavement first emerged about two years ago in a civil suit filed on behalf of the cook. The suit, which also names Edwards’s brother, the restaurant’s owner, as a defendant, is pending.

The 2015 complaint alleged that Edwards beat Smith with a frying pan, burned him with tongs that Edwards had dipped into a grease fryer, beat him with his belt buckle and fists and routinely used racial slurs in speaking to him, according to The Post and Courier. Smith, who was paid a salary of less than $3,000, has an intellectual disability, the Post reported.

On one occasion, when Smith was too slow about restocking the buffet, Edwards took Smith into the back of the restaurant and beat him with his belt buckle, according to the Washington Post’s account of the lawsuit.

“Plaintiff was heard crying like a child and yelling, ‘No, Bobby, please!’ After this beating, Defendant Bobby forced Plaintiff to get back to work,” the complaint read, according to the Post.

The Post and Courier said that Smith was forced to live in a roach-infested apartment near the restaurant and at times was so exhausted from working that someone had to feed him.

Smith told WMBF in Myrtle Beach in 2015 that he began washing dishes after school at J&J when he was 12 years old. He worked there for more than 20 years before Bobby Edwards became the manager in 2010.

Smith’s lawsuit says he never told anyone of the enslavement because he was afraid Edwards would kill him. The allegations came to light after a waitress told her mother-in-law of the abuse, and the woman went to state social workers.

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Comment on this Story

  • Kim Hartson Powers

    IT DOES NOT MATTER WHO WAS IN OFFICE.
    The only one to blame is the person who done this.

  • Sareyna

    Prayers for this man!

  • memyselfand32

    Five Years ? You mean he never thought of running for the door, to freedom ? Was he afraid of the hounds, and the Slave-Catchers ? Something just doesn’t add up, here.

  • Cheryl Sutton

    I fail to see the value of any comments focused on who was serving as President of the United States. The story is about a horrific, abusive, and unimaginable workplace situation in South Carolina. I am sure the restaurant owner had his satonic mindset long before any of the Presidents that you have mentioned were elected to office.

  • Enola Gay

    Hope the owners counter sue and make the cook unemployable.

    • Joe Dirt

      Wow!! So the cook is at fault here? Amazing that people like you still exist. It’s actually a shame that they do. Nothing but prayer will help a person like you.

      • Enola Gay

        Is the cook a grown up? If so and what he is alleging is true and he didn’t do anything about till now, then screw him. He was a coward.

        Hope the resturant owners counter sue and win big.

      • diana green

        the man was afraid he would be killed. have some compassion.

      • Cheryl Sutton

        How can Ebola Gay justify that statement? Unbelievable!!

  • HURD17

    Trump’s America.

    • cheese101

      “…enslaving a black buffet cook for at least five years…”
      That started under your buddy Obama’s America.

    • Trisha

      except for the fact that it happened while Obama was president…. so there’s that. How about focusing on how much of a dirt bag this guy is instead of playing a political card.

    • Trisha

      except for the fact that it happened while Obama was president…. so there’s that. How about focusing on how much of a dirt bag this guy is instead of playing a political card.

    • Tim Turner

      “Smith told WMBF in Myrtle Beach in 2015 that he began washing dishes after school at J&J when he was 12 years old. He worked there for more than 20 years before Bobby Edwards became the manager in 2010.”

      So no not Trump’s. Bill Clinton in 1997 (20 Years ago), Obama in 2010.

    • pgrace

      This abuse started in 2010. This cant be blamed on Trump.

    • guest45

      hey hurd, time to go back to school and figure out some rithmetic, Trump wasn’t around when this started buddy!

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