A South Carolina court ruling found that a former restaurant manager who forced a Black man with intellectual disabilities into slave labor, working over 100 hours a week without pay, owes his employee $546,000, double the original amount of restitution.
In 2019, Bobby Paul Edwards, 56, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay John Christopher Smith, 43, $273,000 in back pay after pleading guilty to forced labor in 2019.
The new restitution amount is the result of an April 2021 appellate court decision which found that the 2019 ruling did not account for federal labor laws.
“When an employer fails to pay those amounts (regular and overtime pay), the employee suffers losses, which includes the loss of the use of that money during the period of delay,” the court filing states.
At the age of 12 Smith began working at the J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina. At that time the restaurant was ran by Edwards’ relatives. Court documents show that when Edwards took over the restaurant in 2009, he began abusing Smith physically, mentally, and financially.
Edwards treatment included forcing Smith into severe labor with no pay, moving Smith into a roach-infested apartment with little to no upkeep, and isolating Smith from his family.
Court documents described one particular incident where Edwards placed a tong dipped in hot grease on Smith’s neck because he wasn’t moving fast enough on a buffet order. He was also slapped, punched, and hit with belts during Edwards’ tenure as owner.
“Most of the time I felt unsafe, like Bobby could kill me if he wanted,” Smith said, according to court records. “I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn’t think about how I could without being hurt.”
The abuse forced Smith’s co-workers into silence out of fear that they could face retaliation from Edwards.
In 2014, Geneane Gaines helped to put a stop to Edwards’ reign of terror after she reported the abuse to authorities. Gaines’ daughter-in-law worked at the restaurant where she observed Edwards’ mistreatment of Smith.
“Customers that were going in there would hear stuff and they didn’t know what was going on, and they would ask the waitresses, and the waitresses were so scared of Bobby they wouldn’t tell them then what it was,” she told WMBF.
Smith was taken into adult protective services and Edwards was charged with second-degree assault and “attempt to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking.”