A white restaurant manager in South Carolina has been charged with enslaving a black buffet cook for five years, according to a federal indictment unsealed this week.
The cook, Christopher Smith, 39, alleges that he was forced to work up to seven days a week, often for 18 hours a day without breaks, brutally beaten and threatened repeatedly, according to a separate civil suit filed in the matter.
Bobby Paul Edwards, 52, is accused in the indictment of using “force, threats of force, physical restraint and coercion” to enslave Smith at J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C. Conway is just inland from Myrtle Beach.
Edwards surrendered to the FBI on Wednesday, waived a bond hearing for now and was jailed. He faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty of the federal felony of “forced labor.”
“We deny any allegations of slavery and abuse,” Edwards’ attorney, Scott Bellamy, told the AJC Thursday. “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.”
He noted that neither the indictment nor the federal charge contains the word “slavery.”
The indictment, which identifies Smith only by his initials, JCB, says Edwards is charged under the U.S. Code section on “slavery, peonage and trafficking in persons.”
It says Edwards used force, threats and intimidation to “cause JCS to believe that, if he did not perform such labor and services, he would suffer serious harm and physical restraint.”
The indictment is brief and does not contain details of the Smith’s alleged treatment by Edwards.
Allegations of a brutal enslavement first emerged about two years ago in a civil suit filed against the restaurant. The suit, which names Edwards’ brother, J&J’s owner, as a defendant, is pending. http://www.ajc.com/news/local/white-restaurant-manager-charged-with-enslaving-black-cook/DXODC09DOsFsSajtbjfxJK/