June 16, 2011 — -- 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 and told the Associated Press that "[t]here was no discussion of anything related to [Edwards'] situation" at the luncheon.
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.