Jefferson, N.C. — The Charlotte interior decorator who helped funnel money to an aide of John Edwards to help cover up the presidential candidate's affair says he's disappointed that federal prosecutors have ended the criminal case against Edwards.
Bryan Huffman, a close friend of 101-year-old Virginia heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, told WRAL News in an exclusive interview that he and Mellon felt "basically duped" when they learned that checks from Mellon that Huffman forwarded to Edwards aide Andrew Young and his wife went for the upkeep of Edwards' pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, and not to help his 2008 presidential campaign.
"I had no idea what that money was for," he said, adding that Mellon was likewise in the dark about how $725,000 of her money had been spent.
“She was taken advantage of in a way, and all she was trying to do was help the country,” he said.
Prosecutors accused Edwards of using nearly $1 million from Mellon and Texas trial lawyer Fred Baron to keep Hunter quiet and away from the media during the early portion of the 2008 campaign. After a month of testimony and nine days of deliberations, however, a jury last month found Edwards not guilty of accepting illegal campaign contributions from Mellon in 2008.
Jurors deadlocked on five other charges, including whether money Mellon sent in 2007 was an illegal campaign contribution, and prosecutors said last week that they wouldn't retry Edwards.
"I did think that the jurors did not connect the dots," Huffman said. "I do think there was guilt.
"Campaign finance is a joke."
Huffman corroborated much of the story Young told jurors in his five days on the witness stand during Edwards' trial, including that Mellon devised the back-channel means to deliver checks so her lawyer and financial adviser wouldn't question them. The checks were made out to Huffman for things like antique chairs and cabinets, but he merely endorsed them and forwarded them to Young's wife, who deposited them under her maiden name. One check was even delivered in a box of chocolates.
"She always grew up with the sense that, 'I’ve been given a lot, and I need to take care of the country that has been given to me,'” he said of Mellon. "She wanted to continue to support and give, so when Andrew called for the money, she said she could go through her personal account without going through legal adviser and managers.”
Huffman said the scheme was "too simplistic" not to be legitimate, and Mellon told him when he asked that the checks were to help Edwards' campaign.
"How could anybody not be doing something on the up and up if they are running for president?” Huffman said he thought at the time.
Mellon and Huffman learned that the money was spent on Hunter only after Edwards went on national television in August 2008 to acknowledge that he had an affair, Huffman said.
"When we spoke later, she said, 'I guess the senator’s girlfriend is the one who got our furniture business money,' and I said, 'Well, Bunny, it would appear that way,'” he said. “She thought that, if you had a girlfriend, you should pay for it yourself.”
Huffman said he was mad at himself for introducing Young, a law school classmate of his sister, and Edwards to Mellon, allowing them to take advantage of her.
"I was less than pleased to find out I had participated in a scheme to cover up a girlfriend," he said. "The funny thing is that I am the only one who was a conduit between two multimillionaires and lost money on the deal. I had to pay for those FedEx packages (to forward the checks).”
Huffman said he's most frustrated with Edwards, believing that he put everything in motion for the cover-up but failed to take responsibility for it.
"He had so much to offer and do, and to veer so far off course ... it's really like a Greek tragedy," he said.
In a retrial, he said, prosecutors could have "rehabilitated" Young for jurors. Edwards' lawyers painted the one-time aide as a liar and someone who used Edwards' affair as leverage to obtain as much money and power for himself and his family as possible.
"I think they had a hard time rehabilitating for the jurors, to really see what he had gone through. He worshiped John Edwards," Huffman said.
A retrial might also give prosecutors a chance to rewrite the script for Mellon, whom the defense portrayed as a love-struck teenager who would do anything for Edwards. Huffman said he finds that insulting, noting that the only thing she was in love with was the idea of helping improve the nation.
Without a second trial, Huffman said, he's happy to move on and hopes all of the other figures in the case will do likewise so the story can fade away.
"In the end, there may have been justice," he said. "If you had to go through and listen as a parent to the things that were said about you, with your eldest daughter there (and) your parents there, what more could a jail do to you than to have such embarrassment in your life?” he said. "At the end of the day, all you have is your good name. So, if you don’t have that, what do you have?”