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Court rules man enslaved by S.C. restaurant manager owed more than $500K in restitution

Bobby Edwards.
Bobby Edwards.(JRLDC via WMBF)
Published: May. 4, 2021 at 1:32 PM PDT
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CONWAY, S.C. (WMBF) – An appellate court has ruled that a man with an intellectual disability who was forced to work over 100 hours per week at a Conway restaurant without pay is owed more than $500,000 in restitution.

In 2019, Bobby Edwards, the manager of J&J Cafeteria in Conway, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $270,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to one charge of forced labor.

An April 21 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit states the district court’s ruling did not include an additional equal amount as liquidated damages, as requested by the government.

That ruling was appealed by the government, who contended the district erred in failing to include liquidated damages in its restitution award to the victim, whose name is John Christopher Smith, but who is identified in court documents as “Jack.”

According to the appellate court’s ruling, Smith, who has an intellectual disability and an IQ of 70, began working part-time at J&J Cafeteria in 1990 when he was 12 years old. He later dropped out of high school and started working at the restaurant full-time.

Related coverage: ‘Cruel violence’: Federal judge sentences man to 10 years in forced labor case

In September 2009, Edwards took over the management of the restaurant. He moved Smith into an attached apartment and forced him to work more than 100 hours per week without pay, usually from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. for six days, and 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, court documents state.

John Christopher Smith said Edwards mentally and physically abused him while forcing him to...
John Christopher Smith said Edwards mentally and physically abused him while forcing him to work over 100 hours a week at the restaurant with no pay.(WMBF News)

Smith was also never given a day off and kept isolated by Edwards, who threatened to have him arrested and verbally abuse him, according to the ruling.

Once, when Smith didn’t get fried chicken to the buffet as quickly as Edwards demanded, he dipped metal tongs into hot grease and pressed them to Jack’s neck, causing a burn that employees had to immediately treat, according to court documents.

“Other times, when Jack made supposed mistakes, Edwards whipped him with his belt, beat him with kitchen pans, and punched him with his fists,” the ruling states.

A concerned resident was the one to notify authorities about the abuse, and Smith was removed from the situation in October 2014.

When Edwards was sentenced, the district court ordered him to pay roughly $273,000 in restitution. The government asked for an additional $273,000 in liquidated damages, as provided by the Fair Labor Standards Act, but that request was denied, with the reasoning that FLSA liquidated damages are statutory punitive damages only available in civil cases, according to court documents.

The appellate court concluded that “the value of the victim’s labor as guaranteed under the minimum wage and overtime guarantees of the (FLSA)” includes liquidated damages provided by the FLSA.

“Accordingly, we vacate the district court’s award of restitution and remand for its recalculation consistent with this opinion,” the ruling stated.

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