UPDATED: Ex-associate claims sexual relationship involving Jerry and Becki Falwell
Suspended Liberty University president says man threatened to publicize "inappropriate relationship" with his wife
RELATED STORY: Despite saying earlier Monday that reports of his resignation were “completely false,” Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a late-night interview with ABC News that he tendered his resignation as president of Liberty University late Monday night.
Updated, 1:30 p.m. Aug 24
A former business associate of Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said in a Reuters interview published Monday that he had an ongoing, years-long sexual relationship with Falwell’s wife, Becki, with the full knowledge of her husband, who often watched them having sex.
The bombshell comes hours after Falwell, who is on indefinite leave as president of the Lynchburg-based Christian university, acknowledged an “inappropriate relationship” between his wife and a former friend they had met several years ago. In a statement sent Sunday to the Washington Examiner, Falwell alleged the man tried to blackmail the couple by publicly revealing the affair unless they paid him “substantial monies.” In the Reuters interview and statement emailed to the Examiner, Giancarlo Granda denied trying to extort money from the couple.
Falwell’s statement did not include Granda’s name, but his connection to the Falwells has been known publicly since a 2017 Politico story described their relationship with Granda, a former pool attendant who was later a business partner of Falwell’s son, Jerry “Trey” Falwell III, in a Miami Beach hostel.
The property was purchased in 2013 for $4.65 million by a shell company, Alton Hostel LLC, that listed as its sole manager Falwell III, currently Liberty’s vice president of university support services. According to Politico, a Liberty official said Falwell Jr. had given his son the money to purchase the hostel, which was operated by Granda.
In the Reuters story, Granda said that he met the Falwells in March 2012 while he worked at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel, when he was 20. Starting that month, Granda said, he began an affair with Becki Falwell, which continued into 2018. In the interview, he said, “Becki and I developed an intimate relationship and Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room.” He said that he met with the couple “multiple times per year” in Miami and New York, as well as at the Falwells’ home in Virginia.
According to the story, Granda provided emails, text messages and other documents to Reuters showing the nature of the relationship, which ended, Granda said, when he wanted to cut ties with the couple and had a dispute over business.
Falwell’s statement to the Washington Examiner discussed his wife’s “inappropriate relationship” with Granda, while noting the affair was “something in which I was not involved.” Jerry and Becki Falwell were aware of the Reuters story as of at least early last week, when the news agency says it presented its reporting to the couple for a response.
Michael Bowe, Jerry Falwell’s attorney, told Reuters that his client “categorically denies everything you indicated you intend to publish about him,” according to the story.
Granda told Reuters that he did not try to extort money but was trying to “negotiate a buyout from a business arrangement” with the couple. In a text message from this June to Falwell that was shared with Reuters, Granda wrote, “Since you’re okay with ruining my life, I am going to take the kamikaze route. It really is a shame because I wanted to reach a peaceful resolution and just move on with our lives but if conflict is what you want, then so be it.”
In an email sent to the Washington Examiner, Granda wrote, “Any allegation of extortion is falsely defamatory and belied by clear documentary evidence. The Falwells’ attempt to sandbag me … with a last-minute story without providing the Examiner clear evidence that this was not simply an ‘affair’ with concocted allegations of extortion reeks [of] desperation. The WHOLE truth will come out.”
Likening the situation to the 1987 movie “Fatal Attraction,” Falwell said in his statement to the Examiner, “I am now dealing with things in a way that I should have done before — including seeking to address the emotional toll this has taken. I shouldn’t have been afraid to admit my vulnerabilities and to reach out for assistance from the mental health professionals who could have alleviated this pain and stress. I am committed to speaking out and sharing with others at Liberty the importance of seeking counseling instead of thinking you need to be tough and try to bear these burdens on your own. I am in the early stages of addressing these issues.”
On Aug. 7, Falwell took an indefinite paid leave of absence from his positions as the conservative Christian university’s president and chancellor at the request of the executive committee of the university’s board of trustees. The move followed an uproar over a controversial Instagram photo Falwell posted of himself and his wife’s assistant from a party aboard a yacht. Falwell has made as much as $1 million a year leading Liberty. With more than 110,000 students enrolled, most of them online, Liberty is Virginia’s largest school by enrollment and is the nation’s second-largest online university, behind the University of Phoenix.
In the statement issued Sunday, Falwell Jr. wrote, “During a vacation over eight years ago, Becki and I met an ambitious young man who was working at our hotel and was saving up his money to go to school. We encouraged him to pursue an education and a career, and we were impressed by his initiative in suggesting a local real estate opportunity. My family members eventually made an investment in a local property, including him in the deal because he could play an active role in managing it, and became close with him and his family.”
Falwell goes on to add, “Shortly thereafter, Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved — it was nonetheless very upsetting to learn about. After I learned this, I lost 80 pounds and people who saw me regularly thought that I was physically unwell, when in reality I was just balancing how to be most supportive of Becki. … I was and have always remained fully devoted to Becki and we have shared many private conversations to better understand and support each other and to strengthen our marriage. … We extended the spirit of forgiveness to this man with respect and kindness.”
However, Falwell wrote, family members of the man told him that “he has periodically demonstrated emotionally unstable behaviors with some destructive tendencies, seemingly in response to his inability to achieve his professional goals. Based on information from other sources, we believe that he may have targeted other successful women in similar ways.
“While we tried to distance ourselves from him over time, he unfortunately became increasingly angry and aggressive. Eventually, he began threatening to publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki and to deliberately embarrass my wife, family and Liberty University unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies.”
Falwell wrote that the threats continued over the years, with the man fabricating “outrageous” claims and doing so through a “specific member of the media who has continued to badger us, as well as other members of the media, regarding the false claims about the nature of the relationship based on the individual’s misrepresentations. Over the course of the last few months this person’s behavior has reached a level that we have decided the only way to stop this predatory behavior is to go public.”
Falwell does not name the member of the media in his statement, but Liberty alumnus Brandon Ambrosino has written extensively for Politico about Falwell’s relationship with Granda and other controversies involving the Liberty president, including a story last week about his family’s use of NASCAR mogul Rick Hendrick’s yacht for vacations. Last year, The News & Advance reported that Falwell’s lawyers had sent a cease-and-desist letter threatening to sue Ambrosino.
“The trauma of this experience has brought us to a very challenging point in our lives, but we are strong, our faith in Christ is greater than ever, and with His help and with those in the community who we love and who appreciate the impact of forgiveness, we will get through this,” Falwell wrote. “We ask for your prayers and support.”