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Entries in Rachel "Bunny" Mellon (6)

Monday
May212012

John Edwards Jury Stuck on 'Bunny' Money, No Verdict Yet

SKETCH BY CHRISTINE CORNELL(GREENSBORO, N.C.) -- The jury in John Edwards' campaign finance trial ended its second day of deliberations Monday requesting to review additional evidence, but not indicating they are any closer to reaching a verdict.

The panel of eight men and four women spent the day Monday focusing discussions on one count of the indictment dealing specifically with money obtained from 101-yeard-old heiress and Edwards supporter, Rachel "Bunny" Mellon.

Monday marked the second day, since they were charged Friday, that jurors sent a note to Judge Catherine Eagles, requesting a number of trial exhibits related to funds Edwards and his associates received from Mellon in 2007.

The government alleges in count two of a six-count indictment that Edwards and his former aide Andrew Young illegally solicited the money from Mellon as part of the effort to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign. Count three of the indictment contains similar allegations, but is focused on checks Mellon wrote in January 2008, shortly before Edwards ended his quest for the nomination.

Among the exhibits the jury requested is a letter Mellon wrote in April 2007 that is sometimes referred to as the "haircut" letter. Mellon wrote the letter to Young, shortly after the press had seized on the news that Edwards had charged a $400 haircut to his campaign.

"I was sitting alone in a grim mood -- furious that the press had attacked Sen. Edwards on the price of a hair cut," Mellon's handwritten note reads. "From now on, all hair cuts, etc., that are a necessary and important part of his campaign, please send the bills to me. It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions."

Within six weeks of that letter Mellon began writing a series of personal checks that would eventually add up to $725,000 over seven months. The jury also requested copies of the first two of those two checks, which were funneled to Andrew Young through an intermediary and eventually deposited in an account in the maiden name of Young's wife, Cheri.

Edwards' defense team has argued that Young was taking advantage of Mellon, bilking her out of the money with the pretense that it was for Edwards. They noted that the vast majority of Mellon's money went to Young and his wife, who used much of it to fund the construction of their $1.6 million home.

After the jury's request on Friday, an Edwards lawyer told a clutch of reporters in the courtroom that the deliberations could take a while. The jury appears, at least at the outset, to be taking a meticulous, count-by-count approach to their discussions.

Edwards is charged with conspiracy, accepting illegal campaign contributions and making false statements. If convicted on all six counts, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. Practically speaking, any prison term is likely to be well below the maximum.

In addition to the money sent by Mellon, the jury must also consider the support provided to Hunter by Edwards' campaign finance chairman, Fred Baron, who funded a cross-country luxury odyssey for Hunter and the Youngs, after Andrew Young falsely claimed paternity of Edwards' child.

And they also must consider the broader question of whether the financial support provided by Mellon and Baron constitutes an illegal contribution under federal election laws.

At the close of the day the jurors informed the judge that they'd prefer to keep to a set schedule for deliberations, starting each day at 9:30 a.m. and calling it quits by about 4 p.m. The Middle District of North Carolina covers 24 counties and several of the jurors have long commutes to court each day.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May212012

John Edwards Jury Looking at 'Bunny' Money as Deliberations Continue

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images(GREENSBORO, N.C.) -- The jury in John Edwards' campaign finance trial begins its second day of deliberations Monday morning in Greensboro, N.C.

The panel of eight men and four women spent about five hours behind closed doors on Friday as they began to weigh the evidence presented over nearly four weeks of testimony.

Shortly after they retired to the jury room on Friday, the jurors sent out a note to Judge Catherine Eagles, requesting a number of trial exhibits related to money provided by Virginia heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon in 2007.

The government alleges in count two of a six-count indictment that Edwards and his former aide Andrew Young illegally solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars from Mellon as part of the effort to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, during the 2008 Democratic presidential primary campaign.  Count three of the indictment contains similar allegations, but is focused on checks Mellon wrote in January 2008, shortly before Edwards ended his quest for the nomination.

Among the exhibits the jury requested is a letter Mellon wrote in April 2007 that is sometimes referred to as the "haircut" letter.  Mellon wrote the letter to Young, shortly after the press had seized on the news that Edwards had charged a $400 haircut to his campaign.

"I was sitting alone in a grim mood -- furious that the press had attacked Sen. Edwards on the price of a hair cut," Mellon's handwritten note reads.  "From now on, all hair cuts, etc., that are a necessary and important part of his campaign, please send the bills to me.  It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions."

Within six weeks of that letter, Mellon began writing a series of personal checks that would eventually add up to $725,000 over seven months.  The jury also requested copies of the first two of those checks, which were funnelled to Young through an intermediary and eventually deposited in an account in the maiden name of Young's wife, Cheri.

Edwards' defense team has argued that Young was taking advantage of Mellon, bilking her out of the money with the pretense that it was for Edwards.  They noted that the vast majority of Mellon's money went to Young and his wife, who used much of it to fund the construction of their $1.6 million home.

After the jury's request on Friday, an Edwards lawyer told a clutch of reporters in the courtroom that the deliberations could take a while.  The jury appears, at least at the outset, to be taking a meticulous, count-by-count approach to their discussions.

Edwards is charged with conspiracy, accepting illegal campaign contributions and making false statements.  If convicted on all six counts, he faces a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May162012

John Edwards Rests His Case Without Mistress' Testimony

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images(GREENSBORO, N.C.) -- John Edwards' lawyers abruptly ended his defense Wednesday without hearing from the former presidential candidate or the mistress with whom he carried on an affair.

Lawyers for Edwards ended their case with a series of bank statements, phone records and Federal Election Commission memos and a final shot against the credibility of Edwards' primary accuser, Andrew Young.

Edwards' attorney Abbe Lowell reminded the jury that Young and his wife Cheri considered selling a sex tape they found that had been made by Edwards and his mistress Rielle Hunter.

They "had in their possession a private video of Rielle Hunter and John Edwards. They considered selling the private video," Lowell read into the court record.

Lowell had to be asked by the court to also read the part of the statement that said the Youngs "did not sell" the tape.

Introducing the Youngs' talk of selling the sex tape was apparently meant to leave the jury with the impression that Young, who is key to the prosecution's case, was not a credible person.

The courtroom had been braced for blockbuster testimony from Edwards' mistress Rielle Hunter, Edwards's daughter Cate, or Edwards himself.

All three were on a list of possible witnesses for Wednesday, but the defense rested without calling any of them.

The evidence presented by the defense contrasts starkly with the dramatic and often emotional testimony of presented by the prosecution detailing Edwards' attempt to keep his affair and the birth of their baby a secret, huge amounts of money spent to keep the secret hidden, his distraught wife's discovery of the continuing affair, and the unhappy last days of Elizabeth Edwards.

The prosecution called no rebuttal witnesses, setting the stage for lawyers to make their closing arguments beginning Thursday.

Edwards is on trial for allegedly using nearly $1 million in donations from wealthy backers Fred Baron and Rachel "Bunny" Mellon to keep his affair secret to protect his presidential ambitions and later his hopes of winning a spot as vice president or attorney general.

The nearly $1 million in donations used to hide Edwards' mistress and love child were not campaign contributions, the Federal Election Commission concluded, according to documents his defense team filed late Tuesday.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May072012

John Edwards Told Pal $50M Would Be 'Chip Shot' for Elderly Heiress

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images(GREENSBORO, N.C.) -- John Edwards intended to create a $50 million foundation for himself after losing his 2008 bid for the presidency and told a friend it would be a "chip shot" for elderly heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon to fund it for him.

"[Edwards] said he had a friend, Ms. Mellon, who was very wealthy," testified Tim Toben, Edward's onetime friend and supporter who helped keep secret Edwards' pregnant mistress out of North Carolina.

It would be a "chip shot for her to endow the foundation" with $50 million, Toben said Edwards told him in June 2008 at a swank Chapel Hill, N.C., restaurant.

Toben said Edwards' boast that evening made him uncomfortable. He knew the truth about Edwards' and his mistress. He said he even rummaged through her home, removing signed autographs reading "I love you, John," which the senator had given her.

But the "chip shot" conversation would resonate with Toben a year later when he ran into Edwards on the street.

By then the world knew Edwards had cheated on his wife, and a top aide, Andrew Young, was getting ready to publish a book about the affair. Toben was also friends with Young.

"You need to choose between your friendship with Andrew and your friendship with me," Edwards said, Toben told the court.

"Andrew had crossed a line. He was not somebody to be trusted," Edwards said of Young, according to Toben's testimony.

"And then he said something frustrating to me: That Andrew had tried to bilk Ms. Mellon out of $50 million...I don't think he remembered a year earlier he told me it would be a 'chip shot' for her to fund the foundation. And it was the exact same number," Toben said.

Edwards is on trial for allegedly using campaign donations to hide his mistress and her subsequent pregnancy. Much of that money came from Mellon. Edwards could be sentenced to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Edwards' defense hinges on his argument that he never personally asked Mellon for any money and that Young acted on his own to solicit money.

Toben had a unique insider's view of Edwards's relationship with Hunter, joining them at a Dave Matthews concert and driving a pregnant Hunter to an airplane hanger at 4 a.m. to get her out of North Carolina and away from an increasingly suspicious press.

Earlier Monday, an assistant for Mellon told the court that just before his indictment last year Edwards asked the 101-year-old heiress for $3 million. That was in addition to $725,000 she had already given to Edwards for his hush fund and several million to Edwards' presidential campaign, super PAC and a non-profit organization.

Tony Willis serves as Mellon's personal librarian and custodian of her correspondence. Mellon asked Willis to send a letter she dictated responding to a plea by Edwards asking "her for some additional money to get him established," he said.

"I understood her to say he asked for $3 million," Willis said, but Mellon denied the request, saying "she couldn't provide the money."

Willis' testimony about the letter was made after a defense objection and the jury was excused. Lawyers from both sides made impassioned pleas about whether or not the letter should be admitted into the record.

The prosecution is trying to prove that Edwards willfully, personally and routinely asked Mellon for money, bolstering its claim that Edwards knew about the $725,000 Mellon gave him over the course his campaign to win the presidency between 2006 and 2008. The letter is proof Edwards "alone went to Mrs. Mellon and [tried] to get $3 million more," argued prosecutor Robert Higdon.

The defense has argued that Edwards never asked Mellon for money directly, and any money requested by his aide Andrew Young was done in an attempt by Young to steal money from the wealthy heiress himself.

Edwards' lawyers said the letter came years after the presidential campaign and the existence of his relationship with Rielle Hunter and their baby was acknowledged, and after Mellon had been questioned by the FBI. Defense lawyers argued the letter should not be admitted as evidence.

The judge upheld the objection and the jury was brought back after discussions of the letter had ended.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
May042012

John Edwards' Main Source of Hush Money Was 101-Year-Old Woman

Sara D. Davis/Getty Images(GREENSBORO, N.C.) -- The key person funding John Edwards' campaign and possibly a cover up involving his mistress was a 101-year-old philanthropist who had swooned over the Democratic presidential contender in 2007.

Rachel "Bunny" Mellon was so taken with Edwards after meeting him at her Virginia estate in 2005 that she lent her personal plane to take him home to North Carolina, her confidante Bryan Huffman told the jury at Edwards' trial.

"Bunny was euphoric with the visit," Huffman told the court.

As the plane taxied down her private runway with Edwards' face visible in the window, Huffman said she told him, "There goes the next president of the United States."

What she might have said is there goes $725,000 of her money.

Huffman brought some color to a trial that has been marked by tears, grim faces, angry accusations, and tense testimony.

Huffman, dressed in yellow checked blazer with matching yellow tie and pocket square, cheerfully regaled the jury with stories about the financial scheme in his deep southern drawl.

Mellon was so enamored of Edwards that she made sure that her personal lawyer was unaware of her under the table donations, which formed the bulk of the hush fund meant to keep the presence of his mistress Rielle Hunter a secret. Mellon was also unaware of how the money was spent, Huffman said.

In addition to the $725,000 meant for Edwards personal needs, Mellon donated another $6 million to his political action committee and non-profit organization.

Edwards is charged with violating campaign finance laws by using nearly $1 million from wealthy donors to hide his pregnant girlfriend. He could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

Huffman will be back on the stand today and he will be followed by Mellon's personal lawyer Alex Forger.

The checks, which became known as "Bunny money" to those involved in the cover up, were disguised as payments for furniture.

"It gave her something to look forward to," Huffman told the court. "The campaign gave her a wonderful focus and something to really hold onto."

When asked if Mellon was aware there was a $4,600 legal limit on campaign donations, Huffman replied, "She thought it was a little low."

At the time of the donations Edwards was fighting for the Democratic nomination against Barack Obama and then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, who Mellon referred to as "the old rag" or "ol' raggy."

The checks would arrive sporadically with notes attached to hide their purpose, Hufffman said

The notes pretended the money was for dining room chairs, a book case, or an "antique Charleston table."

"One note said she was paying me back for money I had bet on a horse. She was having fun with this," Huffman testified. "It was called the furniture business."

When Edwards' presidential campaign ended, Huffman says Edwards and Mellon began talking about a foundation that would fight poverty. Huffman said Young then asked Mellon for $40 million to $50 million to fund the foundation. Young has testified that he made the request at Edwards' behest.

"Bunny Mellon was a little upset that she was going to be out on the street corner and they were going to have her farm for the foundation," Huffman said.

In an August meeting in Mellon's home, Forger talked to Edwards about the money and Edwards said he didn't know anything about the money or the foundation, Huffman told the court.

Other former Edwards aides have previously testified that Edwards was aware of the money and the plans for a foundation.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jun162011

Exclusive: John Edwards Sought Millions from Heiress as Feds Closed In

Thinkstock/Comstock(NEW YORK) -- Just weeks before federal prosecutors charged John Edwards in a six-count felony indictment, ABC News has been told, the two-time Democratic presidential candidate requested millions of dollars from Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, the banking heiress whose financial support of Edwards is at the center of the criminal case.

One person with knowledge of the request confirmed the amount was in the millions of dollars but was unwilling to discuss why Edwards was seeking the money.

William Taylor, an attorney for Mellon, declined to address questions from ABC News. A spokesman for Edwards' legal defense team also refused to comment.

Edwards' ongoing relationship with the reclusive Mellon, who will turn 101 years old in August, was being closely monitored by federal authorities as the investigation into alleged violations of campaign finance laws was wrapping up.

Their concerns were heightened in late April when Mellon dispatched her private jet to a small North Carolina airport to pick up the former senator and members of his legal team. As ABC station WTVD's helicopter hovered above the airport to capture video of the boarding passengers, Mellon's pilot paced around the tarmac before eventually taking off again with no one else aboard.

But a month later, as Edwards' attorneys were engaged in last-minute negotiations with the Justice Department, ABC News learned, Edwards was visiting Mellon for a private luncheon at her sprawling Virginia estate. Taylor, who said he was present for that meeting on May 26, described it to ABC News as a "personal and social" visit.

Rachel Mellon was an early supporter of Edwards' bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination, pouring more than $4 million into political groups and non-profit organizations connected to the Edwards campaign. But the government alleges that Mellon also was the principal source of money that enabled Edwards to conceal his affair.

Identified in the criminal indictment against Edwards only as "Person C," Mellon provided more than $700,000 that the government alleges were unlawful contributions that went to pay the living and medical expenses of Rielle Hunter while Edwards continued his pursuit of the nomination.

Another attorney for Mellon, Alex Forger, has said previously that Mellon was unaware of how her money was being used.

Edwards' defense team is expected to argue that the money from Mellon was a gift and has blasted the government's case as "wrong on the facts and wrong on the law."

ABC News has been unable to determine if Mellon provided the money allegedly requested recently by Edwards. And since the campaign is now long over, even if such a gift were made, it would not be illegal.

At a brief appearance in federal court in Winston-Salem earlier this month, Edwards indicated his intent to plead not guilty to all the charges. A trial date has not yet been set.

One of the conditions of his release from custody was that he have no further direct or indirect contact with Rachel Mellon.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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