Liberty University announces probe of Jerry Falwell Jr.’s tenure amid scandal

Liberty University’s executive committee announced Monday it is beginning an investigation into the tenure of Jerry Falwell Jr., the former president of the evangelical Christian university who was forced to resign last week amid allegations of sexual impropriety brought to light by a former business associate. 

The committee said that it has retained a top forensic firm to probe “all facets of Liberty University operations during Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s tenure as President, including but not limited to financial, real estate, and legal matters.”

Falwell’s ouster came after Reuters reported last week that Falwell’s wife, Becki Falwell, had a longtime sexual relationship with a business associate, Giancarlo Granda, while Falwell looked on. The couple had met Granda nine years ago, when Granda, then 20 years old, was a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach and the Falwells were guests. The three became business associates in 2013, when Granda and his father convinced Falwell to invest in a youth hostel in South Beach, Politico Magazine reported in 2017.

Granda told Reuters his relationship with the Falwells soured, in part, when he wanted to end the relationship and end their business partnership. Falwell admitted his wife’s affair with Granda and claimed Granda was trying to extort him.

Liberty, an evangelical Christian university, bans sexual relations “outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman.” The committee also said in its statement Monday, “While we had been willing to extend grace and understanding to Jerry Falwell, Jr. before, once the revelations about his past personal life came more fully to light, we acted swiftly and decisively to ask for his immediate resignation, which we received.”

The university also conceded that it’s “certainly fair to say that there were questionable comments made, worrying behavior, and inappropriate social media posts, but all the signs were not there until the start of last week.” 

Falwell Jr., who is 58, was already on leave from Liberty before his resignation after he posted a photo on his Instagram account with his pants unzipped, holding a a drink and with his arm around a woman whose shorts were also unzipped, exposing her belly. While Falwell apologized and said the photo was taken at a “costume party,” Liberty University bars alcohol consumption and has a strict code of conduct. 

Liberty also announced it was considering establishing a position for a spiritual coach to help its leaders fulfill their “spiritual responsibility to live out the Christian walk.”

Falwell told CBS News’ Sara Cook last week that “90%” of the Reuters report is false. 

“There definitely was a relationship (with Becki) for a short time,” he said, but claimed Granda then “started trying to extort Becki, and he has extorted her for the last seven years.”

Granda has denied extorting the Falwells. He issued a statement on Tuesday calling Falwell the “predator,” and alleged Falwell sent him a picture of a “female Liberty University student exposing herself at their farm.”  

“The Falwells would have you believe that I seduced Becki into an affair, without Jerry’s knowledge, and then spent the intervening 7 years trying to extort them,” Granda said. “Of course the truth is, they approached me. She invited me to their hotel room. They offered me an equity partnership in a property venture. They brought me on multiple trips and vacations, including to their family farm in Virginia. And as recently as last year, participated in video calls where Mrs. Falwell was naked and Jerry was watching.”    

CBS News confirmed last week that the university may have to pay Falwell $10.5 million over the next two years, as his contract stipulated would occur if he resigned should his responsibilities be curtailed. A Liberty University official told CBS News that they believe the university isn’t likely to contest Falwell’s severance package, given the financial and reputational cost of lengthy litigation. 

“I don’t think anybody wants to go to court with our founder’s son, and I don’t think they’re going to,” the official said. 

Falwell assumed the role of Liberty president from his father, founder Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr., and built the school into a much larger and more prosperous institution. 

Caroline Linton and Sara Cook contributed to this report.  

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