Liberty University sued its former leader Jerry Falwell Jr. on Thursday, accusing the son of its founder of a “business conspiracy” against the institution.
The evangelical institution claims in the suit, filed in Lynchburg Circuit Court in Virginia, that Falwell concealed his relationship with Giancarlo Granda from the university.
Liberty cites both a lawsuit that Falwell filed against Liberty in November 2020 and a statement that the evangelical scion issued to the Washington Examiner before Reuters broke the news in August 2020 that Granda had a relationship with Falwell’s wife as the son of the famous preacher allegedly looked on.
Falwell did not immediately return a request for comment from TPM. Late on Friday afternoon, he issued a statement to an LA Times reporter saying that the lawsuit was an “attempt to defame me and discredit my record.”
“This lawsuit is full of lies and half truths, and I assure you that I will defend myself against it with conviction,” the statement reads.
— Megan K. Stack (@Megankstack) April 16, 2021
Granda tweeted a statement saying that the lawsuit “continues to perpetuate a false narrative.”
“The truth detailing the Falwells’ — and their enablers’ — abuse of power, predatory behavior and corruption will come in due time,” Granda said.
Liberty University’s lawsuit continues to perpetuate a false narrative. The truth detailing the Falwells’ — and their enablers’ — abuse of power, predatory behavior and corruption will come in due time. https://t.co/zrk5wNLg3q
— Giancarlo Granda (@GgrandaG) April 16, 2021
Liberty accuses Falwell in the lawsuit of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and of engaging in a “conspiracy of silence” over alleged extortion attempts from Granda while negotiating a higher payment package from the evangelical institution.
“Had Liberty’s Executive Committee known in 2018 and 2019 that Granda was attempting to extort Falwell Jr. and thus planning to damage Liberty, and had it known the full circumstances of Granda’s extortion of Falwell Jr., then the Executive Committee would have refrained from entering into the 2019 Employment Agreement,” the suit states.
“The actions of Falwell Jr. and Granda have injured Liberty’s enrollment, impacted its donor base, disrupted its faculty, enabled the 2019 Employment Agreement that proved detrimental to Liberty’s interests, and damaged Liberty’s reputation,” the suit reads.
The suit also adds that “Granda had plenty of information that could have been deeply damaging to Falwell Jr. in the eyes of the evangelical community.”
The lawsuit characterizes the relationship between Granda and Becki Falwell as “intimate” and “salacious.” At one point, Liberty says that Granda held leverage over the Falwells because he “would be able to provide detail about the fact of the affair with Becki, its duration, Falwell Jr.’s role in abetting it, the attendant circumstances of the affair, and the specific activities in which Granda, Falwell Jr., and Becki engaged during and after the affair.”
The lawsuit includes various images taken from Falwell’s social media accounts, such as the following:
The lawsuit claims that Liberty has a “way of life centered on rigorous educational instruction delivered by faculty and administrators who were intentionally committed to a written statement of faith and to Biblical standards of morality.”
The suit claims that both Falwell and Granda understood that “matters of infidelity, immodesty, and acceptance of a loose lifestyle would stand in stark contrast to the conduct expected of leaders at Liberty.”
The university states in the lawsuit that “fearing spiritual erosion from the top, it was Dr. Falwell’s vision that Liberty would always be subject to the authority of the local church in matters of doctrine and spiritual discipline.”
Liberty goes on to recount its telling of how Granda, a former Miami pool attendant, entered into a relationship with the Falwells. Granda “became enmeshed with the Falwells quickly after they met in Miami, in part because of the familial treatment the Falwells accorded him early in the relationship.”
“In addition to the intimate attention from Becki, Granda received invitations to Falwell family trips and gatherings, and a heady dose of access to important American business leaders,” the suit reads.
That included a 2012 meeting with Donald Trump, Liberty claims, “as the future president made a stop at Liberty to tour campus.”
But “close family contact” and “important associations within the Falwell’s Liberty network,” the university claims, allowed Granda “to understand how vulnerable the Falwells had made themselves by permitting his affair with Becki.”
“[Granda] became closely exposed to Liberty’s high moral standards, which overtly clashed with Liberty’s first couple’s discordant sexual conduct,” the suit reads. Falwell Jr. has claimed that Granda’s affair was limited to his wife Becki, and that he was unaware of it until 2014.
The university then raises a bizarre episode in which “racy photos” of Becki Falwell allegedly left the Falwell’s possession.
“On information and belief, Falwell Jr. was able to quell this particular controversy over racy photos,” the suit says. “According to news reports, Falwell Jr. allegedly enlisted high-level Washington legal assistance, and the picture problem seemed to have gone away.”
Trump attorney Michael Cohen reportedly helped suppress the photos. Liberty claims that the “experience with the racy photos no doubt suggested to Granda that Falwell Jr. could be leveraged, and taught the young man that with persistence, a price might be paid by the Falwells to avoid embarrassment.”
Liberty goes on to accuse Falwell of living a life at odds with that which Liberty required of its students.
“In contrast to the high behavioral standards that Falwell expected others at Liberty to follow, the Falwells frequented Miami-area clubs and were pictured at times amongst revelers,” the lawsuit reads.
From there, the evangelical institution says that “Falwell Jr. had every reason to fear what Granda might do with the Granda Allegations and supporting material.” Citing claims in Falwell’s 2020 lawsuit that Granda was “acting opportunistically towards the Falwells,” the university claims that the evangelical scion “came to believe that something drastic and protective had to be done.”
But that, Liberty claims, did not lead to Falwell telling the university about what was happening.
“Instead of divulging to Liberty’s Board of Trustee’s Granda’s active attempts at extortion, Falwell Jr. instead led a scheme to cover up the illicit conduct,” the lawsuit reads.
Liberty goes on to claim that “the Falwells knew they shared a unity of interests with Granda. They had an important goal in common: silence about the Falwell’s salacious acts.”
“The Falwell[s] needed silence from Granda in order to safeguard their personal reputation, Jerry Jr.’s professional standing, and his employment with America’s leading evangelical university,” the suit reads.
Liberty says that the Falwells managed to “appease” Granda and keep him silent.
“As 2019 began, Falwell had shrewdly controlled Granda for nearly five years,” the suit reads.
Liberty then turns to the 2019 negotiations over Falwell’s employment at the university.
That agreement, the university says, included an “escape hatch” agreement for “political and personal fallout”: for being the “first major evangelical leader to personally endorse Donald Trump for President.”
Liberty says that the “escape hatch” provision included “severance and retirement benefits,” made in part because Falwell had taken steps “with his peer evangelicals to make Trump’s checkered past something Christian leaders could accept and overlook.” Liberty described the former president as “a thrice-married man” – who “was hardly a natural cultural hero for evangelicals.”
Liberty claims that while Falwell told the evangelical institution that he wanted the severance provision included because of his support for Trump, in fact it was due to his relationship with Granda.
“Falwell Jr. wanted Liberty to pay severance and retirement benefits to him if Granda revealed the Granda Allegations, and Falwell Jr. thus knowingly withheld from Liberty material information that would have altered the nature of the negotiations of the 2019 Employment Agreement,” the suit reads.
Liberty goes on to allege that Falwell drank more and more over the summer of 2020, as Granda prepared to come forward with his allegations. That included an August 2020 radio appearance that Liberty describes as a “compounding blunder,” in which Falwell called in to a Lynchburg radio station “drawling that he had apologized to his family and promised going forward he would be a ‘good boy.'”
Reuters broke the Granda story later that month. “These were issues about which Falwell Jr. had actively kept Liberty in the dark, as Falwell Jr. had confessed for the very first time the day earlier to a third party, in his unauthorized Washington Examiner submission,” the suit reads.
Falwell left Liberty later that week.
Read the case here: