A white South Carolina restaurant manager has admitted to enslaving and physically abusing a developmentally disabled black employee over a five-year period, PEOPLE confirms.
Bobby Paul Edwards, 53, the manager of a restaurant in Conway, pleaded guilty to one count of enforced labor, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday in a news release obtained by PEOPLE.
Edwards admitted to using violence, threats and intimidation to make John Christopher Smith work more than 100 hours a week without pay.
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Smith, who is in his 30s, had been working at the restaurant since he was 12 years old.
Before Edwards became manager, Smith worked at the restaurant busing tables, washing dishes and cooking, according to the Washington Post.
The abuse began in 2009, when Edwards began managing the eatery, according to the news release. Edwards initially increased Smith’s hours and duties but soon stopped paying Smith and began threatening and physically abusing him.
Edwards beat Smith with a belt and yelled racial slurs at him, according to the release. To make Smith work faster, Edwards hit him with pots and pans and burned his bare neck using hot tongs.
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Edwards abused Smith until October 2014, when Smith was removed from the restaurant after police received complaints about the abuse.
Smith has been diagnosed with delayed cognitive development. He told WMBF-TV in 2015 that he never reported the abuse because he was scared.
In the DOJ statement, Assistant Attorney General John Gore said, “Human trafficking through forced labor can happen on farms, in homes, and as today’s case shows, in public places, such as restaurants,”
“Edwards abused an African-American man with intellectual disabilities by coercing him to work long hours in a restaurant without pay,” Gore continued. “Combatting human trafficking by forced labor is one of the highest priorities of this Justice Department and today’s guilty plea reflects our commitment to seeking justice on behalf of victims of human trafficking.”
Edwards faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.
Scott Bellamy, Edwards’ attorney, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
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