GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Defense attorneys for John Edwards will argue at his trial that much of the nearly $1 million in secret payments at issue in the criminal case against their client was actually siphoned off by a trusted aide to build an expansive dream home.
The former aide, Andrew Young, is potentially the prosecution's most important witness: He was once so loyal to Edwards that in an attempt to avoid a sex scandal for the 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, he falsely claimed paternity of the baby fathered by his married boss.
Young's testimony will be vital to making the government's case that the former North Carolina senator led the effort to hide his pregnant mistress as he sought the White House.
Destroying Young's credibility with the jury will be essential for the defense team's strategy for keeping Edwards out of prison. Opening arguments are set for Monday.
Edwards, 58, has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts stemming from campaign finance violations. The federal indictment recounts more than $933,000 in unreported payments from two campaign donors who had already given the maximum allowed by law.
Edwards denies knowing about the money, the bulk of which was given by Rachel Mellon. Prosecutors say Mellon offered under-the-table cash for Edwards' personal expenses.
In May 2007, Edwards' mistress, Rielle Hunter, informed the candidate she was pregnant. According to the account in Young's 2010 tell-all book about the affair, Edwards was unable to access his own money to support Hunter without his wife, Elizabeth, finding out. So, Young says, Edwards decided to take Mellon up on her offer.
Edwards' defense will try to prove the Youngs converted much of the money from Mellon for personal use. Their evidence includes copies of the Youngs' bank records and 13 bills from the contractor that built their home.