Local Politics

Uneven day for prosecutors in Edwards trial

Posted May 7, 2012

— After the lawyer for a wealthy heiress undermined the government's case against John Edwards on Monday, a Chapel Hill developer testified that Edwards tried to get money from the woman.

Edwards is charged with violating federal campaign finance laws by accepting contributions far above legal limits and not reporting them.

Prosecution witnesses have over the past two weeks outlined an alleged scheme in which Rachel "Bunny" Mellon routed $725,000 through back channels to Andrew Young, an Edwards aide who was looking after Rielle Hunter, a campaign staffer with whom Edwards had a child.

John Edwards case graphic WRAL.com archive: John Edwards case

Young said Edwards then encouraged him to claim to be the baby's father to squelch media questions about a possible affair between Edwards and Hunter that would have derailed his campaign. Edwards didn't acknowledge the affair until months after he had dropped out of the race, and he continued to deny paternity of the child until early 2010.

Developer Tim Toben described for jurors a late-night rendezvous in December 2007 in which he was asked to whisk Young and his wife and a pregnant woman wearing sunglasses and a scarf to Raleigh-Durham International Airport for a flight aboard a private jet.

The following day, he said, he received a phone call from Edwards. "He just wanted to thank me and (said) he'll never forget what I did for him," Toben said.

Later, Toben learned that the pregnant woman was Hunter, and she asked him to pick up some personal items from a house she was renting in the gated Governors Club community near Chapel Hill. Once was a photo of her and Edwards from her nightstand that was signed "I love you, John," he testified.

Toben, whose family had donated to Edwards' campaign and who hosted a fundraiser for the candidate, said he began rooting against Edwards at this point, realizing that Edwards was having an affair.

"The public could forgive a mistress but not a mistress with a baby," he said.

Still, he continued to associate with Edwards, and the two had dinner in the summer of 2008. Edwards had ended his campaign months earlier but still held out hope for a top post in the subsequent administration.

If all else failed, Toben recalled Edwards saying, he could fall back on plans for an anti-poverty center that Mellon would fund for him.

"Mr. Edwards indicated that it would be a chip shot for her to endow that foundation with $50 million," he testified.

The figure popped up a year later when Edwards confronted Toben on a Chapel Hill street, and Toben said the former U.S. senator issued an ultimatum.

"You need to choose between your friendship with Andrew and your friendship with me," he said Edwards told him. "Andrew really crossed the line, and he's not to be trusted."

Edwards told Toben that Young tried to bilk Mellon out of $50 million.

"I guess he forgot that just a year earlier he said it would be simple to get that same amount from her," Toben testified.

Sketch of Alex Forger on witness stand Prosecution witness undermines case against Edwards

Earlier in the day, Mellon's attorney, Alex Forger, testified that the money used to hide Hunter during the campaign was meant as a gift and not a campaign contribution. To convict Edwards, prosecutors must prove that the donations were made to influence the outcome of an election.

On Friday, Forger testified that Raleigh lawyer Wade Smith, who represented Edwards in 2008, said that the former candidate agreed that Mellon's money had been provided for his benefit.

He was more combative with prosecutors on Monday, saying that Mellon, who is now 101 and too frail to testify, never meant to influence an election by providing extra money to Edwards. Young went to her and said Edwards needed the money for personal reasons, and she readily complied because she had a crush on Edwards and considered him a friend, Forger said.

"She liked him as an individual, as a person. It wasn't because he was running for president," he testified. "If he wanted to be president of Duke University, she would have supported that.

"One of her basic values is loyalty as a friend," he continued.

Mellon had already given more than $6.3 million to groups affiliated with Edwards and had donated the maximum allowed to his campaign. She was a fervent admirer of Edwards who was so upset at public criticism of a $400 haircut he received that she had told Young that she was willing to take care of any expenses that Edwards needed to have covered.

Forger also testified that he considered Young to be a rogue agent who might have scammed Mellon without Edwards' knowledge.

The defense has argued that Young masterminded the scheme to milk Mellon for money to pay for a home he and his wife were building near Chapel Hill and to finance a lavish lifestyle. Edwards knew nothing about her checks to Young, according to the defense.

On cross-examination, Forger said Bryan Huffman, the interior decorator who helped conceal Mellon's payments to Young, told him that Edwards was unaware of the checks. He also testified that he amended Mellon's 2008 tax return to address the payments, which were included as gifts to Huffman, and pay the related gift tax.

"Is there any doubt in your conversation with her that you said this could not be a campaign contribution?” defense lawyer Abbe Lowell asked.

"No doubt," Forger replied.

"Is there any doubt she said it was not a campaign contribution?” Lowell asked.

"No doubt," Forger again replied.

67 Comments

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  • pdbullard May 8, 3:50 p.m.

    I am pretty sure the campaign finance laws at the time limited contribution from donors even if the donor intended it to be a gift. If the relationship between bunny and edwards were because he was running for office the law presumes any monies provide by her to him are campaign donations subjects limits (at that time). Gifts can only come from individuals who had a previous personal relationship prior to any campaign. Even then gifts cannot be made for expenses that would normally be paid by the campaign.

  • jsc1990 May 8, 3:25 p.m.

    He said, she said. Tell not one lie, what you not tell them all..
    I just wish this woman would of spent her money helping the poor, the needy and the helpless instead of wasting it on a man of few ethics who lied his way to the top, dishonored his family, his nation and his God. Oh- his God, isn't the one we speak of. His is greed and corruption. So pitiful that my tax money kept in Comfort and hers' kept him in Style!

  • dirtyhackensaw May 8, 12:02 p.m.

    Could be splitting hairs but the legal question is was the money for hiding the affair from the voting public or was the money for hiding a pregnant mistress from his wife? I am sure that Mrs. Edwards was a registered voter. So in effect hiding the affair with the "gifted money" was also hiding it from Mr.Edwards' constituants. Also if Mrs. Edwards had cause not to vote for her own husband how bad would it have been for Mr. Edwards' campaign. We dodged a bullet with Mr. Edwards not being elected. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A black eye for North Carolina in the national media.

  • sunshine1040 May 8, 11:57 a.m.

    I hoppe someone has taken over the care and spending of Ms Mellons money. This sounds more and more like a scam to cheat a senior citizen out of her money and Johnny knew about it. Charge all involved in getinng the funs with fraud Johnny the youngs hunter and the decorator

  • ecu4me2 May 8, 8:53 a.m.

    Did he report this gift on his tax return..Busted

  • jdupree May 8, 8:05 a.m.

    If this was a gift, why was an intricate conspiracy to hide the money needed. This smells! Looks like a lot of folks are guilty, including John Edwards!

  • bombayrunner May 7, 7:23 p.m.

    Not sure what planet this guys is on. So when is a politician a friend to anyone except the highest bidder. get real.

  • Dichotomous May 7, 7:15 p.m.

    "She liked him as an individual, as a person. It wasn't because he was running for president," he testified. --- So, was Mellon in the habit of giving this kind of money to other "close friends", or was Edwards the only one? Seems the answer to that - establishing precedent - could provide some much needed clairfication and context.

  • Nancy May 7, 7:12 p.m.

    "Mellon gave the money to help a friend, not to help get Edwars elected. "

    Mellon was not told what the money was for, it's already been testified to that he told her he needed the money for campaign related expenses (hair cuts for $400 that didn't sit well with the public) and for his 'poverty center'.

    Unless I missed it, she didn't know about a pregnant mistress. She thought he was going to be the next JFK (president).

  • Honesty first May 7, 6:51 p.m.

    Several point here. Edwards was very good at what he did as a lawyer but he did not chase any ambulances.
    He did not use his money as he could have because then his wife would have found out about the affair. Mellon gave the money to help a friend, not to help get Edwars elected. This whole thing is a HUGE waste of taxpayer money. That is reality!!!!

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