White restaurant manager accused of enslaving, beating black cook and paying him under $3,000 a year

A white restaurant manager in South Carolina has been charged with enslaving and abusing a mentally challenged black cook, according to federal prosecutors.

Bobby Paul Edwards used threats and abuse to force 39-year-old John Christopher Smith to work at J&J Cafeteria in Conway from 2009 until 2014, authorities allege.

Smith was beaten with a belt, choked, slapped, punched and burned with tongs used in hot grease, according to court documents.

The cook "was heard crying like a child and yelling, 'No, Bobby, please!'" according to a lawsuit filed by Smith in 2015 against Edwards and the restaurant owner.

The lawsuit also accused Edwards of repeated abuse, saying he hit Smith with a frying pan and other objects. Edwards allegedly forced Smith to work to the point he was so weak he had to be carried home.

Edwards also went after Smith with a belt buckle for being too slow to replenish food items on the buffet line, according to the lawsuit, which also noted that others witnessed the alleged abuse.

"He would beat me with belts and all that," Smith said during an interview with WMBF in 2015. "Take the tongs to the grease on my neck."

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Members of the Ku Klux Klan yell as they fly Confederate flags during a rally at the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina July 18, 2015. A Ku Klux Klan chapter and an African-American group planned overlapping demonstrations on Saturday outside the South Carolina State House, where state officials removed the Confederate battle flag last week. REUTERS/Chris Keane? TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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The cook would work 18-hour shifts and have just one day off a week, according to the Post and Courier. He also was "called the N-word repeatedly" and was paid less than $3,000 annually, according to the newspaper.

Smith, who suffers from a mild delayed cognitive development, told WMBF in the 2015 interview that "I want him to go to prison, and I want to be there when he go."

The 52-year-old Edwards turned himself in to the FBI on Wednesday. He pleaded not guilty to one count of forced labor and was ordered held without bail.

"We deny any allegations of slavery and abuse," Edwards' lawyer Scott Bellamy told the Journal Constitution. "We don’t believe there was any slavery involved. That word — in the climate we’re in in this country, quite frankly — makes it even more of a story."

The indictment did not use the word "slavery," Bellamy emphasized to the newspaper.

With News Wire Services

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