"I wanted to get out of there a long time ago. But I didn't have nobody I could go to," Smith told WPDE. "I couldn't go anywhere. I couldn't see none of my family."
In 2014, a customer noticed scars on Smith's body and called authorities. Then came a 2015 complaint, in which Smith alleged that Edwards beat him with a frying pan, burned him with grease-fryer-dipped tongs, beat him with his fists and his belt buckle and routinely used racial slurs while speaking to him, the Post and Courier reported.
The newspaper also said Smith was forced to live in a roach-infested apartment close by and was too exhausted to physically feed himself.
In the Justice Department’s statement, John Gore, acting assistant attorney general, said, “Human trafficking through forced labor can happen on farms, in homes, and as today’s case shows — in public places, such as restaurants. Edwards abused an African-American man with intellectual disabilities by coercing him to work long hours in a restaurant without pay.”
"We deny any allegations of slavery and abuse," Edwards' attorney, Scott Bellamy, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2017, one day after Edwards surrendered to the FBI. "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 pointed out that neither the indictment nor the federal charge contains the word "slavery," The AJC previously reported.
But the indictment, which identifies Smith by his initials, JCB, said Edwards is charged under the U.S. Code section on “slavery, peonage and trafficking in persons.”
He faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 maximum fine and mandatory restitution to Smith.
Officials at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Conway, South Carolina, had urged the court for tougher charges in 2014.
“We are talking about enslavement here,” Abdullah Mustafa, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said at the time.
"This defendant abused a vulnerable victim, and today's guilty plea holds the defendant responsible for his criminal acts," Sherri Lydon, the United States attorney for the District of South Carolina, told the New York Times.
Edwards’ sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.