Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., who is currently on an “indefinite leave of absence” from the Christian college after a series of public embarrassing acts, revealed Sunday that he had been depressed after his wife, Rebecca, had an affair with a young man who then blackmailed his family.
“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, included him in the deal because he could play an active role in managing it, and became close with him and his family,” Falwell said in a statement to the Washington Examiner late Sunday.
“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,” he explained.
Falwell did not identify his wife’s former lover but previous reports identify him as Giancarlo Granda, the son of immigrants from Cuba and Mexico, who was 21 at the time he met the Falwells. Granda met the Falwells while working as a “pool boy” at the Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach. That relationship would eventually result in the Falwells investing in a gay-friendly youth hostel they purchased in 2013 for $4.7 million.
According to the Miami Herald, the investment led to even more trouble as Falwell settled a lawsuit last October brought by 28-year-old lawyer Gordon Bello for an undisclosed “monetary sum” over the hostel deal. Bello claimed in the lawsuit that he and his father, Miami builder Jett Bello, pitched Falwell on the hostel idea after Granda, a high school friend, introduced them.
Granda, who flew with the Falwells on corporate jets and traveled to Liberty University in 2012 to meet now President Donald Trump (a keynote speaker at the university at the time), was granted a 25% share in the South Beach real estate deal. Bello argued that he was promised a similar share.
He further noted that he met Falwell’s wife through Granda and formed a “personal relationship” with her before he met the now suspended university president in the lobby of the Loews Miami Beach for the alleged pitch meeting in 2012, the Miami Herald noted.
In his statement Sunday, Falwell explained how he lost 80 lbs after learning of his wife’s affair. The couple, he said, “forgave each other, because while her indiscretion may have been more obvious and apparent, I realized that there were important smaller things I needed to do better too.”
The forgiveness would soon extend to Granda, Falwell explained, “with respect and kindness, both for spiritual and religious reasons, and in the hope that we could help him find his way and allow us to put this behind us, without any harm or embarrassment to our family or to the LU community to which we have dedicated our lives.”
After getting to know Granda and his family more, Falwell explained, he learned that “he has periodically demonstrated emotionally unstable behaviors with some destructive tendencies, seemingly in response to his inability to achieve his professional goals.”
He also suggested that Granda may have targeted “other successful women” in the same way he targeted his wife. Falwell said he and his wife tried to distance themselves from the former “pool boy” but things devolved into a “fatal attraction” type situation.
“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 explained. “It was like living on a roller coaster.”
Over the years, Falwell said, Granda stepped up threats against him and his family when they decided to withdraw completely from him. He threatened "to share more outrageous and fabricate claims about us (under the guise of that business entity).”
“He clearly moved forward with this plan 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 revealed. “We have categorically rejected this person’s demands while dealing with him and this particular member of the media who seemed just as obsessed with the prurient, untrue aspects of this story, however fantastic.”
Falwell explained that he is now addressing his mental health needs triggered by the ongoing saga in a healthier way and is trusting God to get through it.
“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,” he said.
Falwell agreed with Liberty’s board earlier this month to take an “indefinite leave of absence” from his roles at the university.
The board's decision came after Falwell apologized for posting a photo of himself at a costume party on a yacht during his family's vacation that showed him wearing a T-shirt and jeans that were unzipped to expose his abdomen and underwear. His right hand was around the waist of his wife's assistant, who was wearing a tank top and unzipped shorts.
A group of 50 ministers who graduated from Liberty University are now calling on the school's leadership to permanently remove Falwell from his post.