UPDATED: After saying resignation reports were ‘false,’ Falwell reportedly resigns
Said he did not plan to resign from Liberty University, despite controversy
Update, Aug. 25: According to an interview with ABC News late Monday, Falwell says he has tendered his letter of resignation as president of Liberty University.
Although other news outlets have reported that Jerry Falwell Jr. has agreed to resign as president and chancellor of Liberty University, Falwell said in an interview Monday evening with Virginia Business that such reports are “completely false.”
He said that he has not agreed to leave the post permanently, nor does he plan to, although he is on an indefinite leave of absence following a series of controversies this summer. Falwell added that Reuters’ report released Monday that a former business associate, Giancarlo Granda, had a years-long affair with Falwell’s wife, Becki, with his full knowledge was “90% false.”
Falwell said in a brief phone interview Monday that he had told the Liberty Board of Trustees earlier in the summer that he needed a short break from work.
After he posted what he called a “stupid picture” on Instagram — a photo he says his wife took of him and her assistant, both of whom had their pants unzipped and bellies sticking out — the board said it would be better to call the sabbatical a “leave of absence,” Falwell said. “I don’t care what you call it. I’ve been at this for so many years and under so much stress, I decided I needed a three-month break.”
He said he’s “enjoying it, except for the press.”
The Instagram photo, which Falwell removed soon after posting it, was too much for many of his evangelical supporters, some of whom called for him to step down. On Aug. 7, Falwell took a paid, indefinite leave of absence from his leadership positions at Liberty.
On Sunday, Falwell released a statement to the Washington Examiner saying that his wife had had a brief “inappropriate relationship” with a man they had met several years ago while on vacation, and that the man had tried to blackmail them by publicly revealing the affair if they did not pay him “substantial monies.”
Then, on Monday afternoon, Reuters posted an interview with Granda, who said that his affair with Becki Falwell took place from 2012 through 2018 and that Jerry Falwell Jr. had known about it and often watched them having sex.
In Falwell’s statement to the Examiner, he said he was not involved in the affair and that he was upset upon finding out about it, but that he had forgiven his wife and the young man. Granda, in his interview, said he was a 20-year-old pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel at the start of his involvement with the Falwells. He met with the couple “multiple times a year” in Miami, New York and at their home in Virginia, Granda told Reuters, providing texts, emails and other evidence.
In 2013, a shell company, Alton Hostel LLC, purchased a Miami Beach youth hostel for $4.65 million, with Jerry “Trey” Falwell III listed as its sole manager. According to a 2017 Politico article, Granda managed the hostel, and Falwell III was given the money to purchase the property by his father, Falwell Jr.
Granda said that he had a falling-out with Jerry and Becki Falwell in 2018 after he wanted to “negotiate a buyout” and sever ties 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.”
Granda denies trying to extort money from the couple, while Falwell characterized the situation as a “Fatal Attraction” scenario, referring to the 1987 movie. Falwell said in the phone interview that the Reuters story was “90% false,” and that “all you have to do is see what we sent to the Washington Examiner, and you’ll see what’s correct.”
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.