Columbia, South Carolina - Defendant Bobby Paul Edwards, 53, of Conway, South Carolina, pleaded guilty Monday in United States District Court for the District of South Carolina to one count of forced labor, admitting that he used violence, threats, isolation and intimidation to compel a man with an intellectual disability to work for over 100 hours a week without pay, announced Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon of the District of South Carolina.
According to court documents, between 2009 and 2014, Edwards managed a restaurant in Conway, South Carolina, where the victim, identified in court documents as “JCS,” had worked since he was 12 years old. Once Edwards began managing the restaurant in 2009, he increased JCS’s duties, requiring him to work more than 100 hours per week. The defendant stopped paying JCS and began using violence, threats, isolation, and intimidation to compel victim JCS’s continued service. According to court documents and Edward’s admissions, he subjected JCS to abusive language, racial epithets, threats, and acts of violence that included beating JCS with a belt, punching JCS with his fists, hitting JCS with pots and pans, and burning JCS’s bare neck with hot tongs, in order to compel JCS to work faster or to punish JCS for mistakes.
The defendant compelled JCS to continue working under these conditions until October 2014, when authorities removed victim JCS from the premises after receiving complaints about the abuse.
“Human trafficking through forced labor can happen on farms, in homes, and as today’s case shows – in public places, such as restaurants,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore. “Edwards abused an African-American man with intellectual disabilities by coercing him to work long hours in a restaurant without pay. Combatting human trafficking by forced labor is one of the highest priorities of this Justice Department and today’s guilty plea reflects our commitment to seeking justice on behalf of victims of human trafficking.”
“This defendant abused a vulnerable victim, and today’s guilty plea holds the defendant responsible for his criminal acts,” said U.S. Attorney Sherri Lydon for the District of South Carolina.
Edwards faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for forced labor, a $250,000 maximum fine, and mandatory restitution to the victim. A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled. According to the terms of the plea agreement, the defendant will also be required to pay restitution to victim JCS in an amount to be determined at the time of sentencing.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with assistance from the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division. The case is being prosecuted by Special Litigation Counsel Jared Fishman, Trial Attorney Lindsey Roberson of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section and its Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Alyssa Leigh Richardson of the District of South Carolina.