White restaurant manager charged with enslaving black cook

A frying pan

A frying pan

A white restaurant manager in SC has been charged with enslaving a black buffet cook for at least five years, according to a federal indictment unsealed this week.

Edwards used abuse and threats to force 39-year-old John Christopher Smith to work as a J&J Cafeteria cook from 2009 until 2014, authorities said.

Public word of Smith's alleged ordeal emerged in 2015 after his attorneys in Charleston filed a federal lawsuit against Edwards, the business and its owner, Ernest J. Edwards, the suspect's brother.

Smith has been diagnosed with delayed cognitive development that results in intellectual functioning significantly below average.

Saying some witnessed the alleged abuse, the lawsuit notes that Edwards went after Smith with a belt buckle for being too slow to replenish food items on the buffet line. "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.

In one instance, Smith said, Edwards dipped a pair of tongs into hot frying grease and scalded the back of his neck.

And he got paid less than $3,000 yearly, they said.

The Post and Courier said that Smith was forced to live in a roach-infested apartment near the restaurant and at times was so exhausted from working that someone had to feed him.

Geneane Caines, Smith's advocate, eventually learned of the abuse and reported it to authorities in October 2014. He pleaded not guilty during a hearing Wednesday in Florence and was ordered to be held without bail. A message seeking comment from his attorney, Scott Bellamy, was not immediately returned early Thursday. The restaurant reported that Smith earned less than $1,000 per quarter, even though he was regularly working 18-hour days, according to the complaint. For his part, Smith said he wants to see Edwards punished for what he endured.

"I want him to go to prison", he said, "and I want to be there when he go".

"Our client is very appreciative of the efforts put forth by the USA government in its investigation", David Aylor, an attorney for Smith, told the Post and Courier Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office on Wednesday announced that Bobby Paul Edwards, 52, of Lakeside Drive, faces a charge of forced labor, a felony that carries up to 20 years in prison.

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