A SC man is accused of enslaving a mentally disabled man to work at his restaurant over a course of five years, the Department of Justice announced this week. He pleaded not guilty during a hearing Wednesday in Florence and was ordered to be held without bail.
Federal prosecutors claim Edwards used "force, threats of force, physical restraint, and coercion" on Smith by beating him with belts and forcing him to work with barely any breaks and little to no pay. He filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 against Edwards and the restaurant owner, saying he wasn't paid or given time off or benefits.
The alleged victim, Christopher Smith, 39, said in a civil lawsuit that Edwards forced him to work 18-hour days, seven days a week and was repeatedly threatened and beaten - often going to the back of the restaurant or inside a walk-in refrigerator to carry out the abuse so others wouldn't notice.
The charges against Edwards have since intensified and he now faces a charge of attempting to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking.
Smith reportedly worked at J&J Cafeteria without problems for more than two decades, the Washington Post reported Thursday. It wasn't until 2010 that Bobby Paul Edwards landed the position as a manager and Smith's job took a turn for the worst. On another occasion, when Smith didn't bring food out to the buffet fast enough, Edwards took Smith into the back of the restaurant and whipped him with a belt buckle, according to the complaint.
They allegedly made him live in a cockroach-infested apartment behind the restaurant so that he could be at their beck and call.
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The brothers allegedly told him they were keeping all of his earnings in a bank account but never gave him access to it.
Smith's lawsuit against the brothers remains unresolved, according to the report.
Like Smith, waitresses at the J&J Cafeteria were reluctant to come forward because they feared Bobby Paul Edwards, according to Geneane Caines, an advocate for Smith who said her daughter-in-law worked at the restaurant. "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", Caines told local station WMBF in 2015.
Smith now lives and works on his own. Since this is an indictment, Edwards will remain innocent until proven guilty of the apparent felony. "He believes that ultimately, justice will be served".
At the time of the lawsuit, Smith's lawyers said: 'The conduct in this case is as troubling as anything I h ave seen in nearly 20 years of practicing law, attorney W. Mullins McLeod Jr. said.