(CNN) – John Christopher Smith suffered in silence for years as his manager in a restaurant in South Carolina physically abused him and forced him to work more than 100 hours a week without pay, according to federal officials.
That manager, Bobby Paul Edwards, 54, was sentenced to 10 years in prison this week and was ordered to pay Smith $ 272,952.96 in restitution, the Justice Department said in a statement Thursday.
Edwards pleaded guilty in June last year to a forced labor charge for forcing Smith to work long hours without pay. The white manager used violence, threats and intimidation against the black employee at the Conway restaurant, according to the Department of Justice.
When he ran the restaurant between 2009 and 2014, Edwards threw racial epithets at the victim, hit him with a belt and with pots and pans, federal officials said.
Smith had intellectual disabilities and was afraid of losing his job. On occasion, Edwards burned his bare neck with hot tweezers to make him work faster, federal authorities said.
"It is almost inconceivable that cases of forced labor will remain in this country until today, a century and a half after the Emancipation Proclamation," said Assistant Secretary of Justice Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. "The Department of Justice will continue investigating, prosecuting and convicting traffickers of people involved in forced labor, seeking justice on behalf of their victims."
The victim claims that they kept him away from his relatives
In a 2017 interview with WPDE, a CNN affiliate, Smith said Edwards physically abused him for years and forced him to live in a room behind the restaurant, keeping him away from his relatives. When Smith's family came to the restaurant, the manager forced him to stay in the kitchen, he said.
“A long time ago I wanted to get out of there. But I had no one to turn to, ”he told the affiliate. “I could not go anywhere. I couldn't see any of my family. ”
Smith said he started cleaning tables and washing dishes in the restaurant when he was 12, but the incidents began when Edwards took over as manager.
In October 2014, a frequent customer noticed the scars on his body when he was lowering the food and called the authorities, who removed Smith from the restaurant, the affiliate said. The victim is about 40 years old now.
The office of the National Association for the Progress of Colored People (NAACP) in Conway pressed for tougher charges after a local court accused Edwards of assault, a misdemeanor, WMBF of CNN.
"We are talking about slavery here," said Abdullah Mustafa, president of the local chapter of the NAACP.
The organization was instrumental in helping to file complaints with the Justice and Labor departments.
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