Scandal tough on Edwards aide

Staff writerJanuary 20, 2010 

During John Edwards' two campaigns for president, Andrew Aldridge Young was a trusted, loyal aide, often near the candidate's side when he was in North Carolina.

When Edwards and his family were out of town, Young looked after their houses. When they flew into town, Young picked them up at the airport. If Edwards' parents needed help at a campaign event, Young was there. When hordes of reporters and photographers trampled the grass of Edwards' Raleigh neighbors during his 2003 presidential announcement, Young arranged to have the damage repaired.

And when Rielle Hunter -- the campaign videographer with whom Edwards has acknowledged he had an affair -- became pregnant, Young said the baby was his.

That statement, posted in December by a Washington lawyer representing Young, transformed and complicated the life of a 42-year-old man who finished law school at Wake Forest but apparently has never practiced law. He has lived in the Governors Club near Chapel Hill with his wife and three children, and more recently in a Santa Barbara, Calif., home worth nearly $2 million. Both homes are in gated communities that offer some shielding from public view.

It is not clear whether he is working. But records show that work is wrapping up on Young's new home: a 5,300-square-foot structure on a wooded, 10-acre lot outside Chapel Hill.

The circumstances have raised questions about Edwards' longtime aide, most sounding more like the stuff of soap operas than the residue of a failed campaign:

Was Young really the father of Hunter's newborn daughter? How did a man who collected a middle-class income raising money and serving as a personal assistant wind up doing so well for himself? Why did Edwards' campaign finance chairman pay to move Young and Hunter from North Carolina to palatial homes in California, away from prying tabloid reporters?

Last month, Edwards acknowledged that he had an extramarital affair with Hunter but denied that he was the father of her baby girl, born in February. He said he was willing to take a paternity test; Hunter has since refused to allow her daughter to be tested. Edwards also denied having any previous knowledge of payments made to Hunter and Young.

But news stories and blog postings since then have fueled skepticism about those assertions -- and about Young's role.

Pigeon O'Brien, a Texas-based publicist who said she was a longtime friend of Hunter before losing touch with her in June, said that although she remembers Hunter's talking about her boyfriend "John" from North Carolina, she could not remember Hunter's ever mentioning Andrew Young.

When the National Enquirer's pursuit of the Edwards affair story heated up last year, the Youngs and Hunter fell under the protection of Fred Baron, finance chairman for the Edwards campaign. An influential fundraiser for the Democratic Party, the former Dallas trial lawyer acknowledged last month that he paid to move Young and Hunter from North Carolina to California.

At one point after the move, according to Baron, Young's family was sharing a home with Hunter, at least until tensions arose.

Young's new home outside Chapel Hill is secluded. There he and his family may be able to dodge the persistent questions surrounding Edwards' relationship with Hunter, the woman hired to shoot a series of videos leading up to his run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

Young and his family aren't talking to the press. But in a mid-August interview with the New York Post, Young's mother, Jacquelyn Juchatz, expressed doubts that her son was the father. No father was listed on the baby's birth certificate.

Timothy Toben, the Chapel Hill developer of the Youngs' new home and an Edwards campaign contributor who considers the Youngs friends, said the last year has been "horribly difficult" for them.

"They've been through a tough time, but they're survivors," he said. "They're solid people, and I'm sure that they'll rebound."

Getting close to Edwards

Public records and interviews shed some light on Young's journey to the center of the Edwards maelstrom.

In 1987, at the age of 20, he was charged with burglary in Florida, but was never prosecuted. Two years later, he pleaded guilty to a worthless check charge.

University records indicate Young graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1992, when he was 26. He later got a law degree from Wake Forest University and worked as a lobbyist for the N.C. Academy of Trial Lawyers.

In 1999, Andrew Young married Cheri Lynn Pfister, a registered nurse.

Young's relationship with Edwards dates back to 1998, when he started as a low-level staffer for the wealthy trial lawyer's Senate campaign. One of his duties was scouting locations for Edwards' Senate campaign office.

Gary Pearce, a Democratic operative and consultant to Edwards' 1998 Senate bid, remembered Young as an ambitious guy who "really wanted to get involved, and be involved with a big political figure." Later on, when Edwards made his run for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, Young "bugged the [heck] out of me to make a contribution, as good fundraisers do," Pearce said.

"My impression was that Andrew quickly got pretty close to John and Elizabeth Edwards," Pearce said.

By 2002, Young was splitting his time working in Edwards' Senate office and with New American Optimists, a political-action committee affiliated with Edwards. A year later, Young was director of operations for the exploratory committee for Edwards' 2004 presidential run.

In March 2005, Young took the title of assistant director of development at the UNC Law School. The $70,000-a-year position was a fundraising job with the school's new Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, which tapped Edwards as its first director. The center was, among other things, a vehicle for Edwards to maintain a public profile after he left the Senate.

Young's salary was paid with private money, a UNC Law School spokeswoman said. University records show Young receiving $5,834 a month through November 2006. E-mail from that tenure shows a playful side of Young. In a March 2006 message to Mary S. Murray, then the UNC School of Law's assistant dean for external relations, Young asks how to handle a seminar sponsor's request to donate $10,000 in stocks for tax reasons.

"How does I dooooo that? Yipppeeeee," Young wrote.

Spacious houses

While he was working for Edwards, Young and his wife started moving into a succession of larger homes.

In 1998, his mother helped him buy a house in Cary for $175,000. Records do not indicate how much money Juchatz contributed to buying her son's home.

In 2000, the Youngs sold the Cary home and bought a 4,850-square-foot house beside Lake Wheeler in Raleigh for $450,000. The following year, building permits show, they added a sun room, family room and other improvements valued at $200,000.

Over the next few years, Wake County records show that the Youngs took out lines of credit and a variety of loans on the Raleigh house -- one as high as $435,000.

In February 2007, the Youngs sold the Lake Wheeler home for $1.2 million. That was about $750,000 more than they paid for the home in July 2000, and about $300,000 more than its current tax value.

The buyer was Carolyn Grissom, who records indicate was not a contributor to Edwards' campaign.

While he was living near Lake Wheeler, Young was planning for a future home. In September 2005, he bought a 10-acre tract in the Conservation Ridge project near Chapel Hill for $300,000. Orange County records show that he, his mother and his wife borrowed about $272,700 in that transaction.

In October 2007, the month the Enquirer published its first story about the Edwards affair, the Youngs borrowed $850,000 on the Conservation Ridge property, apparently to build the new home. Toben, the Conservation Ridge developer, said the Youngs were not given any type of discount because of their relationship with Edwards.

Neighboring 10-acre lots sold for $270,000 to $360,000.

"We had the land on the market for six months, and I know that they were looking to move to Chapel Hill because they were working with the Edwards campaign and their previous home was some distance away," Toben said. "I remember him saying he did well on his previous home, but I don't know that he was going to apply [all that money] to his new house."

Into the campaign

While Young continued in his fund-raising role at UNC-CH, Edwards' One America Committee began a six-month contract with Hunter in July 2006 to produce a series of videos of the candidate to post online.

In September of that year, Young was cited by Raleigh police for having open beer containers at a park near his home. He was later charged with driving while impaired, and a substance abuse counselor's assessment found "some evidence of alcohol abuse" and recommended group counseling, according to court records.

University records indicate that Young resigned from his fundraising role with the UNC Center in December 2006, the same month Edwards declared his second run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

In the following year, Young drew a monthly salary from the Edwards campaign ranging from about $6,000 to about $7,000. His earnings that year, after drawing his last paycheck from the campaign in November, totaled about $74,000.

In mid-2007, Young moved from his Raleigh house to the Governors Club. The Enquirer later reported that Hunter also lived in the development near the Youngs.

With Fred Baron's help, the Youngs were moved to California late last year.

Baron hasn't said how much he paid Young, but the National Enquirer has reported that Young has been receiving $20,000 a month, and Hunter $15,000. Baron has said he made the decision to help the two on his own, without informing Edwards about the arrangement.

After the Youngs moved to California, Young was granted permission by a Wake County District Court Judge to complete in California the 24 hours of community service mandated from his DWI conviction. According to a motion submitted on July 25 by Roger W. Smith Jr., Young's attorney, Young was in California for "work-related purposes."

The records do not show whether Young completed the recommended group therapy.

Young, his wife and their parents and siblings have all declined repeated requests for interviews in recent months.

In the fledgling development where the Youngs' new home is nearing completion, a long, winding road leads past horse stables and a duck pond.

For the couple of homes going up on Thomas Berry Way, "Private Drive" and "No Trespassing" signs dot the clay and gravel roads.

Staff writers Anne Blythe and Benjamin Niolet and researchers Marion Paynter and Maria David contributed to this report.

Published on Sunday, September 14, 2008 , THE NEWS AND OBSERVER

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