Black check collector still practicing optometry

Scott Edwards, who collected and distributed checks with blank payee lines for disgraced former House Speaker Jim Black, has been allowed to keep his optometry license.

Edwards, of Hertford County, has received no public disciplinary action from the N.C. Board of Optometry despite his conviction for a felony in 2007. He continues to practice, his attorney Stephen Smith said Friday.

The checks Edwards gathered in 2002 and 2003 from fellow optometrists were intended as political contributions, but the use of blank payee lines allowed someone other than the contributor to determine where the money would go. Black, a Democrat and Matthews optometrist, filled in some of the lines in what election officials called an evasion of campaign finance laws.

Black, who was among the state's most influential politicians for eight years, is serving a federal prison term for a separate corruption conviction.

Edwards, a former treasurer of the optometrists' political action committee, entered an Alford plea last year to a charge of obstructing justice. The plea meant he did not admit guilt but thought there was enough evidence for a conviction.

He received a suspended sentence of six to eight months, two years of supervised probation and 100 hours community service. He paid the State Board of Elections $10,000 toward the cost of its investigation.

The optometry board, which regulates the profession under state law and which Edwards is a former member of, scheduled a hearing for May 30 to discuss disciplining him. It could have revoked his license, but the hearing never took place. Most such hearings are settled in private ahead of time.

“The matter before the optometry board has concluded,” Smith said. “There was no disciplinary action taken, and there's nothing else pending.”

Johnny Loper, a lawyer for the board, confirmed that the case has been resolved with no public action.

State law allows the board to issue a letter of reprimand to an optometrist, but the law says such letters are private.

Joe Sinsheimer, a former Democratic campaign consultant and founder of a Web site calling for Black's ouster, said Friday that the state's optometrists have not come to terms with the blank-check scandal.

“What we would like to see from the profession is some sense that they have corrupted the political process and that they're not going to do it again,” Sinsheimer said.

Edwards, 57, did not return a message left at his practice.

At least 40 blank checks collected by Edwards, each for $100 by various optometrists, later went to former state Rep. Michael Decker or to his campaign. Decker, a Forsyth County Republican, said he traded Black his vote for House speaker in exchange for $50,000. Black denies there was a deal, though he entered an Alford plea to a related felony charge.