WASHINGTON — As a Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards got a lot of help in hiding his secret affair and love child through funds provided by Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer who secretly funneled $200,000 to squire Edwards’ lover on chartered flights, stay in tony hotels like the Four Seasons and live in a Santa Barbara mansion.
Edwards’ Texas connection to the late Baron, a famous Dallas litigator who died in 2008, was already well known but is explored in new detail in Friday’s six-count indictment, which identifies him as “person D,” and reveals that Baron made a $1,000 cash payment that came with a written note: “Old Chinese saying: use cash, not credit cards.”
Baron was Edwards’ finance chairman during the 2008 presidential race, and the indictment describes a “conspiracy” that “solicited and accepted over $200,000 from Person D, well in excess of the Election Act’s limit on individual contributions” of $25,000. The charges involving Baron are counts four and five of the indictment.
Baron’s widow, Dallas lawyer Lisa Blue Baron, was questioned by the grand jury that indicted Edwards on Friday. In a statement to the Star-Telegram, Blue Baron said, “I know my late husband Fred Baron cared about the senator. John has been a long time friend of our family. I have confidence in the legal system. At this point in time Senator Edwards is innocent until proven guilty.”
However, in an interview with D Magazine, Blue Baron said she was “disappointed” in Edwards, who she is not in touch with any longer, but not upset with him.
“I just feel like so many people have been so mad and so upset with John Edwards that he doesn’t need one more person to criticize him or be judgmental of him,” she said. “I think he suffered the consequences, and it’s a great life lesson about how high you can be, where you have 100,000 people cheering you because they think you’re great, to the other extreme, where you’re possibly facing criminal charges.”
The indictment lists the travel and accommodations expenses incurred “to escape the attention of the media in order to avoid damage to Edwards’ campaign,” including $29,259.85 for a chartered flight from Fort Lauderdale to Aspen on Christmas Eve, followed by another private flight three days later from Aspen to San Diego for $14,787.85. Among the hotel costs: $10,111.28 at the Loews Coronado in San Diego and $25,283.50 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Santa Barbara. The rental payments for a Santa Barbara house were listed as $58,667.00.
Fred Baron, or “Person D,” also made an electronic transfer to an Edwards’ aide of $10,000, according to the indictment, that was part of the cover-up conspiracy.
Asked on an ABC television interview in 2008 whether Baron had made payments, Edwards said, “I know absolutely nothing about this. I had nothing to do with any money being paid, and had no knowledge of any money being paid, and it wasn’t being, if something was being paid, it wasn’t being paid on my behalf. . . I don’t know that he did or why he did it. And what his reasons for, were, for doing it.”
And for that concealment and deception, count six of the indictment finds that the former U.S. senator and 2004 vice presidential nominee “knowingly and willfully falsified, concealed, and covered up by trick, scheme and device” the funds – which federal lawyers say amount to illegal contributions -- from the Federal Election Commission.
(Maria Recio is the Star-Telegram’s Washington bureau chief.)