M. Scott Edwards, a friend and longtime political supporter of former House Speaker Jim Black, pleaded guilty today to one count of obstruction of justice in exchange for four perjury charges being tossed out.
Durham Superior Court Judge Ronald Stephens, who was presiding over the case in Wake County, accepted Edwards' offer this afternoon shortly after jury selection had been completed.
Edwards was sentenced to 6-8 months in prison, with the time suspended, supervised probation for two years and court costs. He also has to complete 100 hours of community service within six months.
Edwards also has to repay the State Board of Elections $10,000 toward the cost of an investigation that led to the charges against him.
Edwards was accused of filing false campaign reports as treasurer for the political action committee for optometrists in North Carolina. Stephens had declined on Monday to dismiss the charges against Edwards.
The case stemmed from an investigation last year by the state elections board, which found that optometrists funneled money to Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, and other candidates through the optometry group's PAC. But the PAC did not disclose its role as a conduit, elections officials alleged.
Many of the optometrists testified before the elections board that they left the payee line blank on the checks they wrote, allowing them to be filled in later by Black and others. Some of those checks were directed to former state Rep. Michael Decker of Forsyth County after Decker switched his political party and kept Black in power in 2003, records and testimony have shown.
As part of his sentencing, Edwards may not be a treasurer or caretaker of money for any organization, political or otherwise.
Edwards declined to speak with reporters after the sentencing and did not address the court when given a chance.
After the sentencing, Edwards walked over to Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby, who handled the case, and said, "No hard feelings whatsoever. You did your job."