Oct. 12 (UPI) -- A South Carolina restaurant owner is accused of enslaving a mentally disabled cook at his restaurant over a course of five years, the Department of Justice announced this week.
Between September 2009 and October 2014, Bobby Paul Edwards, 52, "used force, threats of force, physical restraint, and coercion, among other means, to compel the victim, who has an intellectual disability, to work as the buffet cook of J&J Cafeteria in Conway, S.C." the DOJ said.
Edwards is charged with one count of forced labor.
The alleged victim, Christopher Smith, 39, said in a civil lawsuit that Edwards forced him to work 18-hour days, seven days a week and was repeatedly threatened and beaten. He said Edwards would take him to the back of the restaurant or inside a walk-in refrigerator to carry out the abuse so others wouldn't notice..
According to the Washington Post, in one incident, Smith said that Edwards dipped a pair of tongs into hot grease and scalded the back of his neck.
"Plaintiff was heard crying like a child and yelling, 'No, Bobby, please!' After this beating, Defendant Bobby forced Plaintiff to get back to work," the complaint read.
And Smith, who is black, said Edwards, who is white, called him racial slurs.
Throughout the five years, Smith said he lived in a roach-infested apartment behind the restaurant and was never paid the money he was supposed to get.
NAACP Conway Chapter President Abdullah Mustafa told WPDE in 2015 that Edwards intimidated Smith to the point where the cook was afraid to leave.
"In this particular atmosphere where he was at, he was conditioned and he feared going anywhere. That's why he wasn't able to break away," said Abdullah. "Not only that, but when his mother and family throughout the years was going to J & J Cafeteria to see him, they wouldn't even allow them to see him."
Edwards' attorney, Scott Bellamy, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution his client denies the charge. "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," Bellamy said.
Last year, Smith told WMBF that he hopes Edwards gets punished for his alleged deeds.
"I want him to go to prison, and I want to be there when he go," Smith said