John Edwards-Rielle Hunter Affair: Federal Grand Jury Weighs Possible Indictments

Witnesses testify before grand jury investigating use of funds.

Jan. 7, 2011 — -- A prominent financial backer of John Edwards was among those appearing this week at a federal courthouse in Raleigh, N.C., where a grand jury has been hearing evidence in a probe of the disgraced former senator and presidential candidate's finances.

Michael Cucchiara, a North Carolina real estate developer who became a close friend and supporter of Edwards, was observed walking into the courthouse Thursday morning. He entered without making any comment.

A decision is expected early this year on whether to seek indictments in connection with more than $1 million that was used to help conceal Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter, multiple sources told ABC News.

Though grand jury proceedings are secret, Edwards and his attorneys have acknowledged the investigation and have expressed confidence that no campaign funds were used improperly and that no laws were broken.

Sources with knowledge of Cucchiara's relationship with Edwards say that he is one of the former senator's few remaining confidants. Their friendship got its start four years ago, after Cucchiara made a $2 million donation to a poverty center at the University of North Carolina that was then directed by Edwards.

The grand jury also heard this week from Lisa Blue Baron, the widow of Fred Baron, who was the national finance chairman for John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign.

Before his death in October 2008, Baron publicly acknowledged spending unspecified sums to move Hunter and former Edwards' staffer Andrew Young out of North Carolina to escape the scrutiny of reporters investigating the affair. As the presidential primaries approached, Young and Hunter -- then approximately seven months pregnant -- falsely claimed that Young was the father of her unborn child.

Baron said at the time that the money he spent was his own and that he never told John Edwards about the payments.

But in his memoir, "The Politician," published in 2010, Young claimed that while Edwards did not know the details, the former senator was aware that Baron was funding a high-stakes odyssey designed to keep them out of sight.

Hunter, Young and his family flew on private jets from Raleigh to Aspen to San Diego just days before the Iowa caucuses.

They eventually settled into a palatial estate in Montecito, Calif., for which Baron paid $20,000 per month in rent.

Hunter gave birth to a baby girl, Frances Quinn Hunter, in February 2008, in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Ex-Aide Made Claims About Supporters' Donations

In subsequent interviews with ABC News' Bob Woodruff, Young said Baron's financial assistance eventually ran well into the six figures, including a payment of more than $300,000 from Baron directly to the builder of the Youngs' Chapel Hill, N.C., home.

Young described the payment as a gift from Baron.

It is not clear how much Blue Baron knew at the time about the payments allegedly made by her husband -- and efforts to reach her attorney were unsuccessful.

The activity at the Raleigh courthouse this week was the latest sign that the long-running investigation into Edwards' finances has new life.

In October, ABC News and its Raleigh affiliate WTVD were the first to report on a new round of approximately 20 subpoenas sent to former campaign staffers and associates.

Sources with knowledge of the investigation indicated that the expansion followed a review of the case by election law specialists at the Department of Justice in Washington.

Last month, former Edwards spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri, former deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince, and four relatives of the 100-year-old heiress Rachel "Bunny" Mellon made appearances before the grand jury.

Mellon, a reclusive heiress to two family fortunes, was a major but largely unknown supporter of Edwards' campaign, donating several million dollars to political committees and non-profit groups associated with the former North Carolina senator's presidential efforts.

Over six months beginning in mid-2007, Mellon also sent a series of personal checks totaling more than $700,000 to a friend in North Carolina, who then signed the checks over to Young's wife.

Young told ABC News that Mellon's money was used to support Hunter, lease her a car, rent and furnish a home and to pay medical bills.

Mellon's attorney has insisted that the money was intended as a personal gift to Edwards, and that she knew nothing of how her money was being used.

John Edwards Denied, Then Admitted Fathering Baby

In an exclusive "Nightline" interview with Woodruff six months after the birth of Hunter's child, Frances Quinn, Edwards admitted that he had an affair with Hunter, but steadfastly denied that the baby was his. He said then that the timing of the affair made it impossible. He also said that he was unaware of the payments Fred Baron made on behalf of Young and Hunter.

It wasn't until January 2010, about two weeks before the publication of Young's tell-all book, that Edwards acknowledged paternity of the child.

Shortly thereafter, Edwards and his cancer-stricken wife, Elizabeth, separated. Elizabeth Edwards died last month at home in Chapel Hill, N.C.

ABC News station WTVD in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to this report.