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A black man with intellectual disabilities was enslaved for five years at a restaurant in Conway, S.C.  According to a recent court ruling, he should be awarded double the amount of restitution from the restaurant owner now imprisoned for the crime.

Bobby Paul Edwards pleaded guilty in 2019 to a forced labor charge. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was also ordered by a court to pay back John Christopher Smith $273,000 in unpaid wages and overtime compensation at J&J Cafeteria.

On April 28th The Court of Appeals ruled that the previous amount decided by a district court “had erred” in not accounting for federal labor laws. These laws mean Smith is entitled to $546,000, or double the amount he was owed from his imprisonment between 2009 and 2014. According to The Washington Post Edwards used physical violence, threats and intimidation, to coerce Smith into working more than 100 hours per week without pay.

Smith started washing dishes and busing tables at J&J Cafeteria in 1990 as a 12-year-old. At the time the cafeteria was run by Edward’s relatives. Edwards took over in September 2009 and that’s when Smith went from loving his job to hating it.

According to court records Smith was forced to work more than 100 hours each week without pay and no days off . Edwards took advantage of the man’s mild cognitive disability.

Edwards kept Smith isolated from his family, threatened to have him arrested, and referred to him using racial slurs.

“Most of the time I felt unsafe like Bobby could kill me if he wanted,” he said, according to court records. “I wanted to get out of that place so bad but couldn’t think about how I could without being hurt.”

Edwards allegedly Smith injured him many times over the years. According to court records he was whipped with belts and kitchen pans and punched multiple times by Edwards. The worst was when he dipped metal tongs in hot grease and pressed the tong against Smith’s neck.

Other restaurant employees were too afraid of Edwards to speak up, until one woman finally did in October 2014.

Fellow employees at the restaurant who witnessed the abuse were reluctant to report it out of fear of Edwards.

After the abuse was brought to the attention of authorities Smith was immediately taken into Adult Protective Services. Edwards was charged with second-degree assault and “attempt to establish peonage, slavery, involuntary servitude or human trafficking.”

The courts are reviewing the amount of restitution with these additional laws being taken into account. A decision will be made soon on the full amount of money Smith will receive.

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