The $124,000 Question

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Byline: Michael Isikoff

A nonprofit group that John Edwards set up to fight poverty paid $124,000 for Web videos and photos to the former Democratic presidential candidate's mistress, say four lawyers familiar with the payments. The Center for Promise and Opportunity wrote the previously unreported checks to videographer Rielle Hunter in late 2006, the same year Edwards acknowledged he started a "liaison" with her. (Edwards contended originally that he cut off the relationship that year. He admitted more recently he's the father of Hunter's daughter, born in February 2008.) The checks have since been subpoenaed by federal prosecutors in North Carolina as part of a sprawling criminal investigation into nearly $1.5amillion in payments from various Edwards entities and campaign contributors that were for Hunter's benefit, say the lawyers, who asked not to be identified talking about an ongoing probe.

Edwards established the center in 2005 to conduct a variety of public-minded programs, such as "leading a nationwide effort on college campuses to involve young people in the fight against poverty," according to the group's tax returns. The center collected $2.2 million in 2006--more than half, $1.2 million, from a single donor, Bunny Mellon, the 99-year-old heiress to the Mellon fortune, says Alex Forger, Mellon's lawyer (who says his client knew nothing about any payments to Hunter). In the summer of 2006, the center signed a contract with Hunter to document Edwards's work for the group's causes, says Patricia Fiori, a lawyer for the nonprofit. …