(GREENSBORO, S.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
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