State News

Decorator outlines money scheme in Edwards' trial

Posted May 3, 2012
Updated May 4, 2012

— An interior decorator who was a close friend of billionaire heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon testified Thursday about a scheme to route money from Mellon to John Edwards during his run for the White House.

Neither Mellon, 102, nor the late Fred Baron will be taking the stand in Edwards' campaign finance corruption trial to explain more than $1 million in contributions they made to the candidate during his presidential campaign.

On Thursday, however, the jury heard from Bryan Huffman, who helped funnel large checks from Mellon to the wife of Edwards' close aide, Andrew Young. The Youngs were heavily involved in keeping Edwards' pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, out of the public eye.

Huffman described, for example, receiving a $100,000 check from Mellon with "Antique Charleston Table" written in the memo line. It was part of an elaborate ruse to hide $725,000 intended for Edwards from the Mellon family's money managers by sending checks to the designer for a fantasy furniture business.

The designer then endorsed the checks and sent them on to a fundraiser for Edwards' 2008 campaign.

"We didn't call it a scheme. We called it our furniture business," Huffman said. "Our furniture business did not really involve furniture. It was money for Senator Edwards."

Young's wife, Cheri Young, testified last week that she used her maiden name to cash the checks to create an additional line of separation between the money and the campaign.

Huffman said Mellon had no idea that the money was being used to fund a lavish lifestyle for Hunter. Edwards had told Mellon that the donations were helping fund a poverty center, Huffman testified.

The defense will cross-examine Huffman Friday. They have said that Edwards knew nothing about those checks.

Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six counts related to campaign-finance violations. He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all counts.

Earlier Thursday, another former close aide to Edwards testified about bungled efforts to keep theaffair hidden from staff members, including an awkward encounter when Edwards' mistress showed up at a hotel weeks after her work filming for the campaign had ended.

For months in 2006, John Davis said that staff members had been concerned that the woman hired as a videographer was becoming too close to Edwards. For example, while other staff members called him "Sen. Edwards," Rielle Hunter called him "Johnny" or "John," Davis said.

"Rielle is a very unique personality," Davis said. "Everyone else on the team had a political background. Rielle didn't have that sort of resume ... She talked a lot about meditation and yogis."

Davis, who traveled with Edwards in 2006 and 2007, is one of several former aides who have testified about their suspicion or knowledge of the affair during Edwards' campaign finance corruption trial. 

Hunter's contract with the Edwards' organization wasn't renewed at the end of 2006, days after a campaign event where Davis said he saw the Democrat's wife crying after seeing her husband with the videographer.

But Davis said Hunter didn't go away. In February 2007, he ran into her in an elevator at the candidate's Detroit hotel.

"We exchanged brief pleasantries," said Davis. "I would have preferred not to have seen her."

When he saw that she pushed the button for Edwards' floor – where Davis also had his room – he stopped on another floor just so he could get into a different elevator car. Shortly after, he was on the phone with his wife to express his shock at seeing Hunter. He heard a knock at the door of his room. It was the mistress, who came in to talk.

"She told me that she and Sen. Edwards were very much in love and that he was concerned that I had seen her," Davis said.

The next morning, Edwards called Davis to his room and, without being asked, denied that he was having an affair with Hunter. During the period in question, Davis was serving as Edwards' body man — a close assistant who travels with a politician or candidate to handle a variety of tasks.

"He told me she was crazy and that we should make sure she didn't talk to him," Davis said.

Asked if he believed Edwards, Davis replied: "I chose to believe him."

But not long after his encounter with Hunter, a change was made in hotel arrangements. Davis said he'd always stayed in a room close to the candidate, but that the staff began staying on a different floor than Edwards during trips.

"Mr. Edwards suggested maybe a little separation would be good," he said.

During a trip in September of 2007, Davis said he went to Edwards' hotel room to retrieve a cell phone that the candidate had borrowed from him. When he got to the room he could hear what sounded like a speakerphone conversation through the door, and he was able to discern both Edwards' and Hunter's voices.

"I heard him ask Rielle if she was showing yet," Davis said. Hunter gave birth to Edwards' child the following February. The girl, now 4, lives with her mother in Charlotte.

When reporters photographed the pregnant Hunter outside a grocery story that December, Young and his wife flew with Hunter on a private jet to Florida and they checked in to a luxury waterfront hotel. It was the start of a cross-country odyssey of stays in posh resorts and rented mansions paid for by Edwards' campaign finance chairman, a wealthy Texas lawyer named Fred Baron.

During his testimony, Davis recounted a conversation he heard between Baron and Edwards in the fall of 2007 on the finance chairman's jet. Baron's plane was routinely used to fly Edwards to political events in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states.

Davis said he couldn't remember the exact date, but knew the conversation occurred after a tabloid story exposing Edwards' affair.

With Davis sitting inches away, the aide testified, Edwards and Baron discussed Hunter.

Davis recalled that Baron told Edwards that: "The press wasn't going to find Ms. Hunter because of the way he was moving her around so much."

Davis, who by then knew the stories about the affair and pregnancy were true, said he told Baron to stop talking.

"I didn't want to be aware of this," Davis testified.

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  • sillywabbitthepatriot May 4, 2012

    This is better than a top seller at Books A Million. I don't think a professional writer could make this stuff up!

  • Wake1 May 4, 2012

    Heeeeeeere's Johnnnnnnnnnnyyyyy!!!!!

  • Objective Scientist May 4, 2012

    "How does that work? The checks are made out to the decorator. He endorses them but does not deposit them, just hands them over to the Youngs. Mrs. Young then "endorses" the checks using her maiden name. How does she "endorse" the checks? And does she then just walk into a bank and cash a large check made out to someone else?" - post/question by onoudont - May 4, 2012 11:51 a.m

    onoudont... in MOST "above board/legal" transactions it would go like this: You write me a check for a good/service I provide to you. I endorse the check by signing my name - the name by which people know me and my legal name - on the back of the check. I present that to my bank to either deposit it in my account with that bank or to "cash it" by the bank giving me cash/money in the amount of the check. All the "extra stuff" that went on in this case is - for me - very clear evidence that "someone was trying to hide something"! The intent to hide or deceive is unequivocal and very clear!

  • onoudont May 4, 2012

    mxnellis and ncteacher22: Not sure what needs editing. Article clearly states he will not be testifying because he is the "late Fred Baron". Article makes clear that he is dead. That explains why he will not be testifying.

  • onoudont May 4, 2012

    How does that work? The checks are made out to the decorator. He endorses them but does not deposit them, just hands them over to the Youngs. Mrs. Young then "endorses" the checks using her maiden name. How does she "endorse" the checks? And does she then just walk into a bank and cash a large check made out to someone else?

  • ncteacher22 May 4, 2012

    Thanks mxnellis! I was going to ask the same thing. Doesn't WRAL have story editors?

  • mxnellis May 4, 2012

    "Neither Mellon, 102, nor the late Fred Baron will be taking the stand in Edwards' campaign finance corruption trial..."

    Really? No kidding. Tell me exactly how Fred Baron would testify. HE'S DEAD.

  • JAT May 4, 2012

    if Mellon put "antique chair" in the memo line, she knew what she was doing. If she wanted to help the poverty center, why didn't she just write the check to the center.

  • Objective Scientist May 4, 2012

    "i think john oughta be nominated for NORTH CAROLINA DEMOCRAT OF THE YEAR. i THINK HE REPRESENTS THE PARTY QUITE WELL." - post by wildpig777 - May 4 2012 9:54 am

    wildpig777 - do the names Larry Craig, Tom DeLay, Mark Sanford, John Ensign, etc., all the way back to Richard Nixon - "ring a bell"? I could add to that list, but those are good examples. With regard to politics I am a very INDEPENDENT independent and have been one long before it became at least somewhat popular to be one - so I don't have a political "dog in the fight" in this matter. Point is... ANYTIME a Republican or Democrat "points the finger" at the other in matters such as this, or almost anything, it is truly the proverbial "pot calling the kettle black" situation. There is more than enough "_ rappy" (begins with "c") stuff in both parties backgrounds to disgust most anyone. That being said - "pots calling kettles black" type of dialogue between the two parties is a HUGE part of why we have ineffective government!

  • AX MAN May 4, 2012

    I'm with ya "wildpig777". John Edwards is the King of the Democrates. I just hate that he is from our state.

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