Local Politics

Black Associate Pleads to Obstruction Charge

An optometrist linked to questionable fund-raising for former House speaker Jim Black pleaded guilty Tuesday to felony obstruction of justice.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — An optometrist linked to questionable fund-raising for former House speaker Jim Black struck a plea deal Tuesday to avoid going to jail .

Michael Scott Edwards of Murfreesboro entered an Alford plea to a charge of obstruction of justice. The plea allows a defendant to acknowledge that the evidence in a case could result in a conviction, but doesn't require him or her to admit guilt.

Edwards was placed on supervised probation for up to two years, or until he completes 100 hours of community service and repays the State Board of Elections $10,000 for its investigation costs.

He was indicted in September on four counts of felony perjury. A Wake County grand jury accused him of failing to file accurate campaign finance reports for the political action committee of the N.C. State Optometric Society.

A jury was seated in the case Tuesday morning, and Edwards agreed to the plea deal shortly after they began hearing testimony.

In February 2006, Edwards refused to testify at State Board of Elections hearings into whether Black, D-Mecklenburg, violated any campaign finance regulations. Others told the board how Edwards allegedly collected checks on which the payee lines were left blank. The checks came from members of the society's political action committee.

Witnesses told the Board of Elections that many of the checks were passed on to Black. They testified that Black directed where the money should go and filled in the payee on some of the checks.

"They all pretty much said that this was the way Scott Edwards had instructed them to make their contributions to the Optometric Society PAC," Kim Strach, the deputy director of the State Board of Elections, testified Tuesday.

Defense attorneys said Edwards thought the practice was legal because it predated his service as treasurer of the political action committee.

Black hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing in the case.