Giancarlo Granda first noticed that something was off about Becki Falwell while in bed with her.
It was around three or four in the morning, Granda recalls, when he woke up and noticed Becki staring at him without blinking.
It’s what he’d later come to call “the look” — something that, eight years later, still creeps him out.
But Granda is neither squeamish nor skittish. And nor was he, as a 21 year old, primed to let something a little odd like Becki’s “dark, black eyes” fixating on him in the night give him pause.
After all, he was waking up at Cheeca Lodge, an exclusive resort on the Florida Keys’s Islamorada, just weeks after having first met Becki poolside at Miami’s glitzy Fontainebleau hotel.
Becki and her husband Jerry Jr., who, Granda recalls, was sleeping on the couch that night, had invited Granda to the resort for a good time. Granda was only dimly aware of who he was with: education administrators at a Christian university.
But where others saw bible thumpers with an axe to grind against modernity, Granda says he saw a “hot cougar,” an outlet for his own business idea, and, eventually, a second family. Across days of in-person interviews outside Washington D.C., over weeks of phone calls, and through dozens of supporting documents, Granda provided TPM with the most detailed account yet of his entanglement with the Falwells, which would contribute to Jerry losing his position as president of Liberty University and leave Granda feeling besieged by embarrassing articles, wanting to change his name.
Born to a family of first generation Cuban and Mexican immigrants, Granda, with his chiseled jaw and rigorous workout schedule, projects masculinity. It wasn’t always that way. Late in high school, Granda went through a period in which his personal, athletic, and academic lives collapsed due to an obsession with gaming, leaving the school baseball team to spend all his time on first-person shooters like Halo and Call of Duty.
But Granda found redemption from that period by working out and working hard as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau, which allowed him to study part-time for a bachelor’s degree at Florida International University. It also gave him the physique that, according to Granda, Becki Falwell snapped pictures of as he worked poolside in March 2012, before she invited Granda back to her hotel room, pouring him a glass of Jack Daniels as she asked if it was okay if her husband Jerry watched.
That brief triptych of his life, from baseball infielder, to gamer, to pool attendant, had given him a business idea: Big Brothers, Big Sisters, but for gamers. He shared his plan with the Falwells.
“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Granda recalls Jerry telling him over breakfast at Cheeca Lodge. The evangelical scion then suggested he “partner up with Liberty University.”
Granda was elated. He and the Falwells made plans for a trip to New York City later in April — one full month after their first meeting. Granda told his buddies at the Fontainebleau what was happening: he had befriended a wealthy, well-connected couple who were going to take him to New York and introduce him to deep-pocketed investors, giving his business idea — and separate real estate ambitions — legs.
Granda had told his sister about the relationship from the beginning, who remembers asking her brother, months into their relationship, if Jerry was “the pastor guy who is super conservative?”
“And he’s like, ‘No, it’s the son,’” she recalls.
It was Jerry, the tall, good ol’ boy son of the famous televangelist, who stoked Granda’s business ambitions while Becki, the dark-haired daughter of millionaire donors to Liberty, flirted with Granda and drew him away for private liaisons.
But as the chance encounter turned into a years-long relationship, Granda’s sense of good fortune wouldn’t last. Granda would come to see these early meetings not as encouragement, but as “grooming.” Publicity around their arrangement was not a useful link to someone well-connected, but “psychological torture.” Two jaded, middle-aged evangelicals taking advantage of someone decades younger, simply out of ennui.
“I’m standing up for my 20-year-old self,” Granda, now 29, reflects.
Carnival ménage à trois
The Falwells have a dramatically different narrative.
In a lawsuit filed against Liberty University in late October, Jerry alleged that Granda carried on a sporadic affair with Becki from 2012 to 2014 in which he was not involved. The couple befriended the 20 year old, the lawsuit says, because they were “impressed” by his “entrepreneurial attitude and ambition.” Later, the lawsuit claims, Granda sought to extort the Falwells.
The Falwells responded to initial inquiries from TPM, and appeared willing to discuss their relationship with Granda. But after Jerry filed his lawsuit against Liberty, the Falwells stopped replying to TPM’s requests for an on-the-record interview.
Granda shared records with TPM that he said back up his version of events. And other reporting suggests that Granda may not be alone in his account. Politico reported earlier this month that Becki told a neighbor about a separate liaison she had had with a Liberty student, saying that Jerry would only be angry about the encounter if he didn’t get to watch. In a statement to Politico, the Falwells called the story “completely false.”
But in 2012, Granda knew none of that. He was seduced by New York.
In Manhattan, the three stayed at the trendy Gansevoort Hotel, sharing drinks on the hotel’s rooftop by a year-round pool with a giant mosaic of Marilyn Monroe at the bottom.
The Falwells squired Granda around Manhattan, taking him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and promenading around Central Park, and telling him, Granda recalls, “how my life was going to change,” but with a catch: instead of the gaming venture, could Giancarlo first work with the Falwell family on a real estate deal?
“We’re gonna celebrate your first million, we’re gonna have champagne,” Granda remembers the Falwells saying.
But even then, amid New York’s twisted glamor, Granda was uneasy.
The Falwells took Granda to dinner at STK Steakhouse — a pricey restaurant in the city’s meatpacking district. They shared a dessert that reviews from the time describe as a mixture of “caramel corn, cotton candy, and mini funnel cake.” The confection was called the “carnival ménage à trois.”
Granda remembers being “scared that we’re gonna get caught.” After all, the Falwells seemed well-known: “Aren’t you guys concerned that this is gonna end up in the tabloids, that you’re being followed?”
But, Granda recalls, they dismissed his concern: We’re not famous enough for that, they replied.
‘Our friend from the Fontainebleau’
Less than two months after first meeting Becki and Jerry, Granda was thrilled at the possibility of getting a foothold in Miami Beach real estate with the Falwells.
Becki and Jerry were opening Granda up to a new world of power and prestige, buying him expensive dinners and promising him a new career. And so, in September 2012, when the couple invited Granda to Liberty’s campus for a long weekend, it seemed to fit: The university was having its convocation, and real estate magnate Donald Trump was speaking.
Becki heralded a luncheon for Trump’s visit to Granda as access to “an exclusive club,” Granda recalls. At Liberty, Jerry affably introduced Granda to Trump as “our friend from the Fontainebleau” in a greenroom that, Granda says, also contained Michael Cohen and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).
Granda felt bewildered to find himself in the inner circle of Liberty, surrounded by students bound by biblical stricture while he went off to drink, shoot guns, and ride around on ATVs with the Falwell sons, Trey and Wes, at the family’s 500-acre estate.
But it seemed to be only Cohen who, Granda remembers, registered that he was out of place.
Cohen looked over his shoulder at Granda while on a campus tour with Trump and his entourage, and shrugged to a Liberty employee, asking “who’s that guy?”
“He’s a business partner of the Falwells.”
“Huh,” Cohen nodded.
Granda had been noticed.
But, at the time, it didn’t matter. After the Liberty trip, Granda quit his poolside job at the Fontainebleau to pursue the real estate deal. For now, he had cast his gaming therapy venture aside in favor of the Falwells’ offer: a 25 percent stake in the company that owns a Miami property that he would manage alongside Trey, the Falwells’ eldest son. The Falwells had purchased the property, which included a hostel, for $4.7 million.
He thought he knew what Cohen had seen. Granda had gone from being a pool attendant to owning a stake in a multi-million dollar Miami Beach property in under a year. “That’s why the cover story never worked,” Granda smirks. “C’mon.”
Meanwhile, what seemed like a chance to strike it rich would eventually shackle him to the Falwells. Their status in the political and religious worlds — and its divergence from the lust and debauchery he was immersed in — began to dawn on him in unpleasant ways.
“I was watching some video clips on my phone..Woww!!! These are two people that are very passionate at love-making!” Becki wrote to Granda in a July 2012 text message that surprised the then-21 year old. “But seeing you in person and looking at you in the eyes makes me want to rip your clothes off and get the sh** f***** out of me.”
Granda guessed that Jerry had filmed him, and that Becki was in fact watching that video. The Falwells dispute this, and accuse Granda of selling “intimate pictures” of Becki to his friends — a claim Granda denies.
Granda remembers being surprised and freaked out after coming to believe that he had been videotaped. He copied his texts with Becki from his Blackberry, and emailed them to himself. TPM reviewed that July 2012 email.
But what seemed to Granda then like an odd clinginess from Becki evolved into a sense of closeness by which he still feels trapped, even after he has launched a very public campaign to convey to the world that he and the Falwells are no longer associated with each other.
“I had two options: run away, or dominate it,” Granda tells TPM over lunch near his apartment in the D.C. area, describing his decision to go public about their relationship. He ordered a quesadilla — a choice that, he says, was a tribute to Jerry, who claimed to the Washington Post that he first met Granda when he ordered the Mexican dish from him at the Fontainebleau pool.
‘Like a brother’
Back in 2013, Granda wasn’t so worried.
He was, after all, safely ensconced in all of the power, glitz, and security granted by the first couple of evangelical Christianity. What’s more, he had become part of their family.
But Granda started to feel that whenever he would begin to “enjoy the family experience” with the Falwells, Becki would “snap him back” to a relationship that was starting to feel colder and more like a transaction where his side came up short.
It happened once when Granda was parasailing above Miami Beach with Wes, the Falwell’s middle son, and his girlfriend, in August 2013. Granda says he “felt like one of them,” spending the day at the beach with Becki, Jerry, and the kids.
But Becki and Jerry, he says, wanted to sneak off to their suite at The Loews Hotel before dinner at a fancy Italian restaurant down the street.
Granda left with them to spend some private time together in their suite, but not without worry: it had become a running joke in the Falwell family that Becki was always disappearing for an hour or so. The kids couldn’t quite figure it out, where she was going or why they couldn’t find her, Granda recalls.
So when Granda and the Falwells had finished, they needed an excuse.
When they arrived at the restaurant, Dolce Italian, Granda sat down next to Trey, and fed him the concocted story: Granda had had a fight with a close friend, and needed the Falwells for guidance and support.
Trey looked Granda in the eyes and, Granda remembers, said, “you know, you’re like a brother to me. I hate to see you going through a tough time.”
That memory still wracks Granda with guilt.
“It wasn’t just this hot cougar, they merged me with the family,” he says of his thinking at the time. “The son is calling me brother.”
More and more, Granda would not want to have sex with Becki. By 2013, he would call his sister and tell her that he “physically could not continue” having liaisons with the couple. But whenever he tried to pull away from Becki or tell her that he didn’t want to have sex, he recalls, Jerry would grow furious at her.
The moral majority scion would also threaten Granda, he says, telling him that he would send videos of them having sex to his family and girlfriend.
Becki, in turn, would beg Granda to sleep with her, reminding him of when “we went to bat for you” to buy him the hostel.
“I don’t want this to sound like I’m being forced,” Granda emphasizes to TPM, thinking back to how he felt at the time. “I want to take ownership: I’m gonna bang her.”
“But I always felt like if I stopped, I would be completely cut off,” he adds. “Not financially speaking — losing out on the family experience, which I cared more about than anything.”
It’s around here that Granda began to feel that his place in the Falwell family was conditioned on sex, a cold but persistent feeling that would nag at him throughout the year.
Jerry, for his part, said that Granda was losing his mind during this time period.
The 23 year old “became obsessed … with the prospect of leveraging his relationship with the Falwells into a payday,” Jerry’s lawsuit against Liberty reads.
That’s not how Granda remembers it.
When Trey got married in May 2014, he was invited because, in Granda’s eyes, “we were all family, of course Giancarlo was gonna go.”
“Everyone was drunk” and having a good time, Granda recalls of the wedding, which was held at the historic Greenbrier mountain resort in West Virginia. But again, he felt like Becki “snapped him back.”
“Becki was being really obvious, feeling me up, trying to give me a kiss,” he says.
Granda tried to stop Becki, telling her “everyone is here right now.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said.
Things were getting darker for Granda.
What had first seemed like a chance at wealth and success through the Falwells was beginning to constrict him, make him feel jaded. He was “terrified” by a lawsuit that had been filed against him and the Falwells over the hostel deal, and the prospect of it exposing him.
He began to look for ways out. In March 2015, Granda began seriously dating another girl in Miami.
So in May, when the Falwells were visiting, Granda decided to confront them about how he felt, while resolving not to cheat on his new girlfriend with the evangelical couple. He left the hostel and headed over to the pool at The Loews, where the first family of evangelical christianity were waiting in a cabana.
He and Becki went off to a suite while Jerry kept the Falwell kids occupied, Granda remembers.
He told Becki that he felt jaded and depressed by the encounters, and couldn’t continue. Granda told Becki that the liaisons with her, as Jerry looked on, had destroyed how he saw relationships, but that he had found a girlfriend, and wanted a chance at something new.
Jerry phoned Becki, saying that they had to come back, and they went back to the cabana. Granda ordered a caipirinha, and Becki sipped on her standby: vodka and Baileys.
“I know you want to walk away, and look, we’re gonna buy you out, but we need you to help us out on the lawsuit,” Granda recalls Jerry replying, before offering a $1.1 million buyout of Granda’s share in the LLC that owns the Miami property, once the lawsuit ended.
“I need you to hang in there,” Jerry said, according to Granda, before adding in a half-joke: “don’t forget about the videos.”
Jerry, in his October 2020 lawsuit against Liberty, painted a different picture. He accused Granda of trying to extort him and his wife, and said that “Granda threatened to falsely claim” that Jerry “had been a willing participant in the affair, even watching the two engage sexually.” Granda, Jerry alleged, “cooked up this lie hoping that it would provide him a more powerful threat for purposes of accomplishing his intended extortion.”
Jerry denied in the complaint that he watched Granda have sex with his wife. Instead, he said he was “heartbroken” in 2014 to discover that Becki and Granda had been carrying on an “affair,” and even more shocked to find that the enterprising young Granda was extorting him.
In fact, Jerry alleged, he and his wife only carried on with Granda after 2014 to “maintain a positive relationship with [Granda] to placate his increasingly erratic behavior and manage his extortive demands while extricating themselves.”
In any case, their relationship cooled after the May 2015 meeting. There would be no physical relationship between Granda and the Falwells for years, though they stayed close: texts from the time period show Becki telling Granda how his “eyes and lips … entice me” and Granda wishing her “Good morning beautiful.”
But the then-24 year old still wanted out of the real estate venture. They agreed to meet to discuss business at Lure, a fish restaurant in a Miami hotel in May 2017.
Before the dinner, Jerry texted Granda a picture of a woman in a skirt whose underwear was exposed while she reached for a kitchen cabinet. Granda recognized the woman as a Liberty student.
Asked about the image by the Washington Post, Jerry defended himself, saying that the woman was a friend of his daughter-in-law, and that he had sent it to several friends as an innocent joke. It wasn’t meant to be sexual, he said. “She had on, I don’t know how to say this, granny panties,” Jerry told the Post.
At their May 2017 dinner meeting in Miami, Jerry bragged about his ties to the Trump White House and phone calls with Steve Bannon, as, Granda says, the two tried to seduce him and get him to go back to their hotel room.
This time, Granda refused.
He pushed forward on making a new start at business school, getting a letter of recommendation from Jerry.
“Mr. Granda has been a quick study on all business related matters,” Jerry wrote in the April 2018 note.
But one month later, Granda began receiving phone calls from Buzzfeed’s Aram Roston, who would soon break the story of their relationship.
The article — which revealed the speed with which Granda and the Falwells had become business partners — made waves, raising for the first time publicly the question of the true nature of the relationship between the then-27 year old and the evangelical couple.
But as Jerry demanded that all press inquiries be directed back to the Falwells, Granda was humiliated. He worried that his name would be forever tied to articles describing him as a “pool boy,” and began to feel that while Jerry had the resources to defend himself, the Falwells had no interest in defending his reputation.
But still, Granda had been accepted to Georgetown Business. It was a fresh start and a path forward in the real estate industry, separate from the Falwells, something exciting that was his own to be proud of, unconnected from the evangelical couple.
He drove up to D.C. in August 2018 with his mother and sister to start.
But the articles deriding him as a “pool boy” continued to nag. He felt increasingly split between his desire to leave the Falwells and his feeling that only they could protect him from negative press attention.
“All I have is them at this point, because of this lawsuit, these articles,” he tells TPM, describing his feelings at the time. “If I walk away from them, my reputation has been harmed. Who do I turn to?”
The answer, as it had been for nearly all of Granda’s adult life, appeared to be Jerry and Becki Falwell.
On the way up to D.C., Granda and his family stopped at the Falwell’s farm near Lynchburg.
When they arrived, the Grandas dropped their bags off in the Falwell guest house.
But something was off: the Wi-Fi wasn’t working.
“There was zero Wi-Fi,” remembers Granda’s sister, who asked not to be named. “We were disconnected from the world.”
At 10:49 a.m., Granda got a text from Becki.
“Wi-Fi working?” she asked.
Granda had visited the property for years, and it was the first time that the problem had ever come up. He says he immediately knew what was going on: Becki was giving him an excuse to come into the house for a sexual encounter.
Granda ignored it at first. He had had enough, and was happy to spend the rest of the day with his family, riding on ATVs and jetskiing around the place in a group with the Falwells.
But after a long day, when he, his mother, and his sister went to relax in the guest house, Becki texted him again.
“Hopefully you can come down by yourself later so we can hug goodbye..just hug,” she wrote.
Granda replied with “;)”
“Well??? Will you?” Becki replied, saying that Granda could use the Wi-Fi outage in the guest house as an excuse.
“We shall see,” Granda flirted. “You gotta earn it ;)”
“Please.” Becki replied.
Granda entered the Falwell’s mansion, overlooking the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains.
When Granda walked in, he recalls, Becki was there, and so was Jerry.
It was just like old times: he and Becki had sex, and Jerry watched.
It was after the two concluded, Granda remembers, that Jerry stood, and he and his wife had sex. Jerry denies that he ever watched or participated in Granda having sex with his wife, and maintains that their last encounter was in 2014.
Granda left for Georgetown, with “pool boy” articles blaring. He tried to focus on life in D.C., but he couldn’t get away: the Falwells invited him to their estate for Thanksgiving, but he declined in a text exchange that turned into an argument.
“Nothing has been the same since the lawsuit happened,” Granda wrote, referring to the 2014 lawsuit over the real estate investment. “I immediately felt like I was constantly being judged by your kids. It’s not worth it.”
Becki replied in the same thread: “You didn’t seem ‘uncomfortable’ when you came with your mom and sis.’”
That winter, Granda tells TPM, he began to consider suicide. But he felt like the Falwells kept enticing him; he showed TPM material from a January 2019 Facetime video where Becki, in the nude, parades around the Falwell house as Jerry lurks behind, watching.
Meanwhile reporters continued to call. As the Miami Herald prepared to publish a photo in June 2019 of Granda with the Falwells at Cheeca lodge, taken just weeks after the relationship began, Becki and Jerry spoke on the phone with Granda, reflecting on that encounter from seven years before. “I remember asking you, ‘Where does your family think you are?” Becki said.
“And you said, ‘oh, just with some cousins somewhere,’” she added.
Granda recorded the 2019 phone conversation, and played it for TPM. He says he sees it as proof that the Falwells were willing to have him lie to his family to protect their pleasure.
Meanwhile, Becki told Granda to “vent” and “say whatever you want to me and Jerry in the group text” — something Granda now perceives as an attempt to gather damaging information from him.
But he felt like his life was falling apart, and so he vented. With every setback, the Falwells seemed to be lurking in the background.
Granda had an internship offer rescinded in February with no explanation, emails show. “I thought, ‘fuck you guys,’ I saw it as their fault,” Granda seethes.
Women Granda met on dating apps would ask him about the articles calling him a “pool boy,” according to messages Granda provided to TPM. He wrote to Jerry in May 2019 that “a classmate approached me about the articles today…This has gone too far and I can’t take it anymore. I lied on your behalf to protect you and I was a fool for being so loyal to you.”
Granda kept peppering Jerry with texts, saying that the Falwells had “ruined his life” and made him unemployable.
In June 2020, Granda wrote to them that he had had enough: he was taking the “kamikaze route,” and would go public.
“You should by now understand that I will not be extorted,” Jerry replied. “I have always treated you fairly and been restrained in response to your threats because I did not wish to ruin your life.”
“You can’t promise people life changing sums of money and opportunities then call it a crime when they try to collect on said promises, especially when there’s evidence to verify everything I said,” Granda replied.
In his lawsuit against Liberty University, Jerry accuses Granda of plotting for years to extort the Falwells, and of lying about his relationship with them as part of that scheme.
“Rather than just reveal the affair Granda has engaged in with Mrs. Falwell, Granda threatened to falsely claim that Mr. Falwell had been a willing participant in the affair, watching the two engage sexually,” the lawsuit reads.
“Granda had cooked up this lie hoping that it would provide him a more powerful threat for purposes of accomplishing his intended extortion of the Falwells,” the lawsuit alleges. “He was aware of Mr. Falwell’s role at Liberty University, an evangelical institution, his father’s legacy as a national evangelical leader, and his involvement with the Republican Party.”
Granda says that he decided that his only chance at saving his reputation was to go public. He went to Aram Roston, the journalist who first published the “pool boy” exposé in Buzzfeed in 2018. He reported part of Granda’s story — including Jerry’s involvement in Granda’s liaisons with Becki — for Reuters in August 2020. Shortly after, Jerry was ousted from his presidency of a university that brands itself as training “champions for Christ.”
Even now, Granda feels conflicted about his decision to go public.
“If I feel embarrassed, if I feel shitty, I can’t imagine how he feels,” Granda says, of Jerry.
Granda’s decision to speak out detonated a bomb at Liberty University, which is now undergoing a very public reckoning over Jerry’s time at the helm. The school has taken on new leadership, and has hired an outside firm to conduct an internal investigation into financial dealings from Jerry’s time as president.
The school also opened up a portal for potential victims to anonymously report sexual harassment and assault.
Jerry has fought back through his lawsuit against the school, accusing the institution his father founded of breaking his employment agreement by accepting Granda’s claims.
Becki, for her part, has not said much, except to tell the AP that “Jerry is the most forgiving person I’ve ever met.”
“It’s a shame that Christians can’t give us the same forgiveness that Christ gave us,” she added.
Granda, meanwhile, feels like he’s been left with nothing.
He contemplates changing his name, or maybe joining the military to disappear for a few years until things blow over. He’s pinning his hopes on a celebrity offer for his stake in the LLC, but it’s not clear if that will pan out.
Occasionally, Granda still thinks back to the good times he had with the Falwells, years before.
“It was just the moments hanging out with the family, having drinks, and just talking about random things and having a good time,” he says.
Then, quickly, he turns bitter. “And that, is how they suck people in.”
Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that the Miami hostel owned by the LLC in which Granda has a share is on the bay side of Miami Beach.