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

Bobby Edwards
Bobby Edwards((Source: JRLDC))
Updated: Nov. 6, 2019 at 4:08 PM EST
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CONWAY, S.C. (WMBF) – A Conway man who admitted to forcing a man with an intellectual disability to work extensive hours at a restaurant for no pay learned his fate.

A judge sentenced 54-year-old Bobby Edwards to 10 years in prison. The judge also ordered Edwards to pay the victim more than $270,000 in restitution.

Edwards pleaded guilty in June 2018 to one charge of forced labor and admitted to using violence, threats, isolation and intimidation to compel John Christopher Smith to work at J&J Cafeteria in Conway.


Between 2009 and 2014, Edwards managed the restaurant where Smith had worked since he was 12 years old.

Edwards admitted he forced Smith to work more than 100 hours a week for no pay.

“For stealing his victim’s freedom and wages, Mr. Edwards has earned every day of his sentence,” said U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon for the District of South Carolina. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office will not tolerate forced or exploitative labor in South Carolina, and we are grateful to the watchful citizen and our partners in law enforcement who put a stop to this particularly cruel violence.”

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. (Source: WMBF News)

He also physically and emotionally abused Smith when he made a mistake or failed to work fast enough.

Authorities said Edwards beat Smith with a belt, fists and pots and pans. They even said on one occasion, he dipped metal tongs into hot grease and burned Smith’s neck. Edwards also yelled at the victim and used racial slurs to belittle and demean him.

“This abusive enslavement of a vulnerable person is shocking. The FBI is always vigilantly searching for these offenses and stands ready to bring perpetrators to justice and help victims reclaim their lives. We understand human trafficking takes many forms and we encourage anyone with information related to these crimes to contact the FBI,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Jody Norris.

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

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