When Bobby Paul Edwards took over J & J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C., as the daily manager, he enslaved John Christopher Smith, a long-time employee, for five years.
Smith, a Black man, had been working at J & J for 20 years, since he was 12 years old. Edwards, who is white, took over J & J Cafeteria in 2008, according to the Washington Post, and in 2009 began threatening Smith with physical violence in order to coerce him into working more than 100 hours per week without pay.
On Thursday, Smith got some justice when the Justice Department announced that Edwards had been sentenced to 10 years in prison had to pay about $300,000 to Smith as restitution for working without pay at J & J Cafeteria. The department called what Edwards did “abusive enslavement” against Smith, who has an intellectual disability.
“The defendant subjected the victim to physical and emotional abuse whenever the victim made a mistake or failed to work fast enough. The defendant beat the victim with a belt, fists, and pots and pans. On one occasion, he dipped metal tongs into hot grease and burned the victim’s neck,” the statement from the Justice Department read. “The defendant further yelled at the victim and used racial slurs to belittle and demean him. After a concerned resident notified state authorities of the defendant’s abuse, the victim was removed from the situation in October 2014.”
The Post reported that Smith even had scars on his back and was forced to live in an apartment behind J & J Cafeteria owned by Edwards, and that the apartment was infested with roaches.
“It is almost inconceivable that instances of forced labor endure in this country to this day — a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation,” Assistant Attorney General Eric S. Dreiband wrote in a statement obtained by the Post. “The Department of Justice will continue to investigate, prosecute, and convict human traffickers involved in forced labor, seeking justice on behalf of their victims.”