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Black man John Christopher Smith, enslaved by white director, set to receive more than $ 500,000 in restitution, court says

A black man who was enslaved by a restaurant manager from 2009 to 2014 should have been paid more money after his captor pleaded guilty, according to a South Carolina appeals court.

In 2019, John “Jack” Christopher Smith received $ 272,952.96 in compensation, representing minimum wage and overtime, he was not legitimately paid while working at the J&J Cafeteria in Conway, South Carolina.

Smith, who has an intellectual disability and an IQ of 70, was forced to work more than 100 hours a week without pay by Bobby Edwards, who took over the management of J&J Cafeteria in 2009.

Smith had worked at the restaurant as a dishwasher since 1990, but when Edwards took over he began to take advantage of Smith, forcing him to work. “Edwards did this forced labor by taking advantage of Jack’s intellectual disability and keeping Jack isolated from his family, threatening to arrest him and verbally abusing him,” according to court documents. “Her control over Jack involved physical abuse as well.”

In 2019, Edwards pleaded guilty to one count of forced labor and the district court sentenced him to 120 months in prison. At the time, US lawyer Sherri A. Lydon said Edwards “won every day of his sentence” for stealing “his victim’s freedom and salary.”

“The US Attorney’s Office will not tolerate forced or exploitative labor in South Carolina, and we are grateful to the vigilant citizen and our law enforcement partners who have brought this particularly cruel violence to an end,” said Lydon.

Edwards was also ordered to pay Smith nearly $ 273,000 in restitution, but the government requested an additional $ 272,952.96 in damages. However, the district court rejected this request.

Now the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals says the previous restitution ignored federal labor laws giving Smith a total of $ 546,000.

The court said that when an employer does not pay, the employee suffers losses, including “the loss of the use of that money during the delay period.”

So, to fully compensate Smith for any further loss, his restitution amount would have to be doubled, the court suggests. The appeals court overturned the district court’s restitution decision and requests a recalculation.


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