A white South Carolina man who managed a buffet restaurant near Myrtle Beach admitted in federal court this week that he had beaten and verbally abused an intellectually disabled black cook, forcing him to work over 100 hours a week without pay for about five years, according to the Justice Department.
In pleading guilty to one count of forced labor on Monday, the defendant, Bobby Paul Edwards, 53, said that he had used violence, threats, isolation and intimidation against the victim, John Christopher Smith — or “JCS,” as he is identified in court documents.
Mr. Edwards, who could face up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced, admitted that while he was in charge, from 2009 to 2014, he beat Mr. Smith with a belt, punched him, hit him with pots and pans and burned Mr. Smith’s bare neck with hot tongs, according to a Justice Department statement released on Tuesday. He also used abusive language and racial epithets against Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith, who is around 40 years old, had worked at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C., since he was 12, the Justice Department said, and feared losing his job.
In October 2014, the authorities removed Mr. Smith from the premises after receiving complaints about the abuse, the Justice Department said.
In 2015, Mr. Smith told WMBF-TV, an NBC affiliate in Myrtle Beach, that Mr. Edwards would beat him with belts “and all that.” He’d “take the tongs to the grease on my neck,” he said.
“I want him to go to prison,” Mr. Smith said at the time. “And I want to be there when he go.”
Mr. Edwards was indicted by a federal grand jury in South Carolina in October 2016 and was arrested. He pleaded not guilty at the time.
Attempts to reach Mr. Edwards’s lawyer on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
In the Justice Department’s statement, John Gore, acting assistant attorney general, 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.”
Sherri Lydon, the United States attorney for the District of South Carolina, added, “This defendant abused a vulnerable victim, and today’s guilty plea holds the defendant responsible for his criminal acts.”
In addition to any prison time he receives, Mr. Edwards faces a possible fine of up to $250,000 and mandatory restitution to the victim. A date for sentencing, at which the amount of restitution will be determined, has not yet been scheduled.
text MAYA SALAM
This article was originally published on THE NEW YORK TIMES.