John Edwards, the former presidential candidate accused of campaign-finance crimes, acknowledged that checks from a multimillionaire donor to support his mistress were for his benefit, the donor’s lawyer testified.
Alex Forger, the attorney for heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, testified yesterday in federal court in Greensboro, North Carolina, about a conversation he had in December 2008 with Wade Smith, a friend of Edwards. Smith said that Edwards “acknowledges” the checks from Mellon were “for his benefit,” Forger, a prosecution witness, testified.
Smith was responding to questions about the purpose of “furniture checks” made out by Mellon to an interior decorator, Bryan Huffman, and later endorsed by Cheri Young, the wife of Andrew Young, an Edwards campaign aide, Forger testified.
Edwards, who lost a bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, is accused of illegally using almost $1 million in contributions from Mellon and Fred Baron, a now-deceased trial lawyer, to hide his affair with Rielle Hunter, an unemployed filmmaker. Edwards, a former Democratic U.S. senator for North Carolina, fathered a child with Hunter. He faces as long as five years in prison for each of the six counts against him if convicted.
Forger said he became suspicious after receiving a call from JPMorgan Chase & Co. in September 2007 about a $150,000 check. The bank told him and Mellon’s accountants that the personal account didn’t have enough money to cover the check and requested that her estate make up the difference, Forger said.
Check for $175,000
Forger said Mellon called him in December 2007 asking for help making out a $175,000 check.
“She said it was for the benefit of John Edwards,” Forger recalled. “It’s going to Bryan Huffman because that’s the way they want it sent,” he said she told him.
Mellon acknowledged that she knew the limits on campaign donations, Forger said.
“This was a personal contribution and it was obviously a gift,” Forger said Mellon told him.
Huffman, a friend of Mellon, testified that at one point, Andrew Young asked Mellon “for $40 million to $50 million,” and when she became upset at the amount, Edwards called her and said he didn’t want the money.
Huffman also said Mellon understood the money she donated was a personal gift to Edwards and not for his campaign.
Another witness, outside adviser Peter Scher, testified that he’d “been hearing things” about Rielle Hunter traveling with Edwards in the campaign, and that he told Edwards if there was anything untoward going on, it couldn’t be kept secret and would ruin his political career. He said Edwards answered with an obscenity.
The case is U.S. v. Edwards, 11-00161, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina (Greensboro).