The Falwells, the pool attendant, and the double life that brought them all down
For 2 1/2 years, Giancarlo Granda had been telling his family about the generosity of his business partners. The wealthy couple from out of town had taken him under their wing, he said, rewarding the Miami pool attendant’s ambition with a stake in a multimillion-dollar real estate project. Now he wanted them to meet.
In a trendy Italian restaurant inside the South Beach property where he’d become a part owner, Granda introduced his parents and sister to his unlikely benefactors: Jerry and Becki Falwell.
Over wine and pasta, the president of Liberty University and his wife praised the square-jawed 22-year-old, saying he was like an adopted son, Granda and his sister recalled.
“Oh my God. They’re so nice,” Granda’s mother said of the Falwells afterward. “They’re so charming.”
“You see?” Granda recalled replying. “They just want to help me out.”
But the dinner in 2014 was about more than making an introduction, Granda now claims, and he was far more than the Falwells’ friend.
Instead, Granda alleges he was in the middle of a years-long relationship with the Falwells in which he would have sex with Becki while Jerry watched and sometimes recorded. Becki acknowledges the affair with Granda, but she and Jerry both deny he was involved in any way.
“I never participated in this affair as he now falsely claims,” Jerry Falwell said in a statement. “Obviously, it was a very painful period of our lives, but we reconciled and love each other.”
Granda maintains that the intimate dinner – a photo of which Granda posted on Instagram on Nov. 14, 2014 – was part of an attempt to provide a cover story, as people began questioning the ties between the middle-aged evangelical couple and the handsome young college student.
Granda’s claims about the affair, which were first reported in detail by Reuters, were made the same day Falwell stepped down last month as president of Liberty, the prominent Christian university his televangelist father founded a half-century ago in Lynchburg, Va.
And the relationship may have played a role in the political fortunes of President Donald Trump. Falwell endorsed Trump in 2016, not long after his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, said he helped the Falwells cover up compromising photos.
In interviews with The Washington Post, Falwell said his wife had a one- or two-year affair with Granda, who then tried to blackmail them.
“He is a liar and he’s an extortionist,” Falwell, 58, said of Granda.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Becki, 53, said.
But Granda, now 29, says the relationship went on for nearly seven years. Photos, emails, text messages and other documents he provided to The Post support that timeline. In a 2019 recording, Granda and the Falwells can be heard discussing a weekend they shared at a resort seven years earlier, and their fears that the getaway would become public. And screen grabs of a FaceTime conversation in early 2019 appear to show Becki topless and drinking wine while Jerry watched her talk to Granda.
Granda said it was the Falwells who preyed on him.
“I was groomed,” he said. “And before I knew it, I was trapped.”
Granda, who now lives in the Washington area and recently earned a graduate degree from Georgetown, said his involvement with the Falwells ruined relationships with girlfriends and led him to contemplate suicide.
“I’ve been living with this hell for so long,” he said. “I just want to get out.”‘An unhealthy relationship’
Granda was flitting between pool chairs and umbrellas in March 2012 when the 20-year-old noticed something unusual, even in the anything-goes atmosphere of Miami Beach.
A bikini-clad woman in her 40s was snapping cellphone photos – not of the glamorous Fontainebleau hotel where Granda worked, but of him. A few minutes later, Becki Falwell approached and propositioned him, Granda said.
At the time, he was a struggling college student while Jerry Falwell Jr. was leading the transformation of Liberty University into a billion-dollar Goliath with more than 100,000 students, most of them online. The nearly 15,000 residential students are forbidden from drinking or having sex.
Born in Miami to middle-class parents from Mexico and Cuba, Granda grew up a few miles away from the glitzy wealth of the Fontainebleau.
“We were regular Miami kids,” said Thomas Prescott, who played baseball alongside Granda at St. Brendan High School. “We’d go to parties, play poker . . . chase girls.”
But Granda’s athletics and academics began to suffer when he became fixated on video games. The obsession got so bad that he quit the baseball team halfway through his senior year.
“He developed an unhealthy relationship, an addiction,” recalled his sister. “Our parents didn’t really know how to handle that.”
Eventually, Granda traded video games for martial arts, and began taking college courses part-time. By the time he met the Falwells, he had bulked up but described himself as lacking in confidence. Granda now believes the Falwells spotted that insecurity, and exploited it.
After his shift that day at the Fontainebleau, he received a call from a blocked number. It was Becki, inviting him to a nearby hotel, Granda said. He was initially eager, dialing his sister on the way to tell her what was going on.
“I told him it sounded kind of crazy, but he said, ‘It’ll be fun,’ ” his sister recalled.
Granda hesitated, he said, when he got to the room and saw Jerry lying on the bed, looking drunk and with his pants unzipped.
Becki poured Granda a glass of whiskey and told him to relax, he said.
“Just go for it,” Jerry said, according to Granda.
Falwell gave a completely different account of how he met Granda. It was at least a month after Becki met him, he told The Post, and it was entirely innocent.
“I just ordered quesadillas from him at the pool,” he said. “That was about it.”
Falwell later stopped answering texts, calls and emails seeking further comment.
But Granda provided The Post with an email from Jerry containing photos from a second rendezvous the day after the first one. In one photo, Granda is standing next to Becki with his arm around her. In another, Granda is standing next to Jerry.
“Hey Gian! Hope all is well with you,” the March 22, 2012, email from Jerry began. “Becki asked me to send you these pictures. Have a good night.”‘The kamikaze route’
In the fall of 2012, Donald Trump delivered one of the more unorthodox convocation speeches Liberty University had ever seen. After accepting an honorary degree from Falwell, Trump advised the thousands of evangelical students in attendance to sign prenuptial agreements and always “get even.”
Sitting in the front row next to the Falwell children, Granda was shocked – less by the speech than by the crowd’s adulation for his hosts.
By then, Granda said, his relationship with the Falwells was in its sixth month. As the Liberty University president and his wife entered the auditorium, students broke into rapturous applause.
The pressure of maintaining this double life would eventually overwhelm Granda as a lawsuit stemming from a real estate deal with the Falwells threatened to reveal their relationship. According to Cohen, that same lawsuit would play a part in powering Trump to the presidency.
The ill-fated deal had begun five months earlier, during a weekend Granda spent with the Falwells in New York City. The former video game addict pitched Jerry on investing in a website to help people recover from the affliction, Granda recalled. But Falwell – who’d long been a real estate developer – said he had a better idea. If Granda found a good property to buy in Miami Beach, Falwell would give him a 25% ownership.
Granda turned to someone he knew from high school, Jesus Fernandez Jr., whose father had experience in local real estate.
The Fernandezes helped steer the Falwells to a South Beach building that contained a youth hostel, a liquor store and the Italian restaurant. But Granda said his friend asked him repeatedly about his relationship with the Falwells.
“He kept saying, ‘What’s going on here?’ ” Granda recalled. “He suspected something.”
Efforts to reach Jesus Fernandez Sr. were unsuccessful, and his son declined to answer questions about their business relationship with Granda and the Falwells.
The deal was completed in early 2013 for $4.65 million, real estate and court records show, with the Falwells loaning $1 million to a newly created limited liability corporation, in which Granda was a part owner with Becki and the Falwells’ elder son, Jerry “Trey” Falwell III.
For two years, Granda said he managed the hostel while occasionally meeting the Falwells in Miami Beach or at their Virginia farm.
Becki sent him romantic songs and inspirational quotes, and Granda posted benign pictures of himself with the Falwells on social media: emerging from their private jet, celebrating at their sons’ weddings.
If anyone ever asked about their relationship, Jerry told Granda to say the Falwells were mentoring him, Granda recalled.
Then in mid-2014, Granda received a phone call from someone representing the Fernandezes. The father and son would later claim in court that they had been promised a stake in the South Beach property deal by Granda and Jerry Falwell. But, according to Granda, the call focused less on the deal than his relationship with the Falwells.
Granda said he called Jerry, who told him they needed to “normalize” the relationship by posting photos of the two families together. As they sat in the Italian restaurant across from the Falwells in 2014, Granda’s parents still didn’t know how their son had actually come to be a part owner of the lucrative property, he recalled.
“Dinner with the family,” Granda wrote on Instagram under a picture of the six of them.
With the Fernandezes threatening to sue, Granda said he met with the Falwells in May of 2015 at the pool of another South Beach hotel. Trump was going to announce his campaign for president, Jerry said. Then he offered to buy Granda out of the real estate project, Granda recalled.
Granda had recently started dating someone and wanted to cut ties – sexual and professional – with the Falwells, he said. But Jerry told him he had to wait until the legal threat was over, Granda recalled.
A few weeks later, the Fernandezes sued the Falwells and Granda over the real estate deal, claiming fraud and breach of contract and seeking unspecified damages. The complaint alluded to the co-defendants’ “friendly relationship.”
“The lawsuit was basically insinuating that there was a strange relationship,” Granda recalled. “So in my mind, I’m like, people are going to find out. This is terrible.”
It was around that time that Michael Cohen got involved.
The Falwells had met Cohen during Trump’s visit to Liberty University in 2012. In his new book, “Disloyal,” Cohen claims that Jerry called him and asked for help in dealing with an unnamed young man who was suing the Falwells and had photos of Becki “half-naked” atop a tractor.
Cohen called the man’s attorney and threatened to go to the FBI if the photos became public, he wrote, adding that Falwell would later repay the favor by shocking his fellow evangelicals and endorsing Trump in 2016.
Falwell confirmed to The Post that Cohen helped keep the photos quiet, but said he didn’t ask Cohen to get involved, wasn’t aware of his role until after Trump was elected and always planned to endorse Trump.
Last month, Falwell claimed someone stole the photos of Becki from his phone. In a later interview, he accused Granda of selling the photos to the Fernandezes – something Granda denies.
Jesus Fernandez Jr., who has changed his name to Gordon Bello because of the case, declined to answer questions about the lawsuit or the alleged photos.
“The Falwell, Granda and Cohen families must be going through very distressful times,” he said in a text message. “It’s not easy when the chickens come home to roost.”
The lawsuit dragged on 4.5 years.
On July 14, 2016, four days before the Republican National Convention, Jerry texted Granda suggesting they sign a letter of intent to sell the South Beach property, promising him a sizable payout.
“Trey says there is enough for you and he to net $600,000 each after taxes,” Jerry wrote, according to a copy of the message Granda shared with The Post.
Granda agreed, the text messages show, but the sale never occurred, leaving Granda increasingly frustrated.
Still, Granda and Becki continued to exchange affectionate texts.
“I miss you so much my heart hurts,” she wrote after seeing him in May 2017. “I couldn’t take my eyes off of you.”
“Good morning beautiful,” he replied the next day.
“Good morning gorgeous,” she texted back.
And when he applied to a graduate real estate program at Georgetown in 2018, Granda asked Jerry for a letter of recommendation.
“I became acquainted with Mr. Granda in early 2012 when he was working his way through college in Miami Beach,” Falwell wrote, adding that Granda was a “quick study.”
A month later, however, a reporter from BuzzFeed began calling Granda.
“We just need everyone to go silent and avoid creating a story where one does not exist,” Falwell texted Granda. The article came out three weeks later, with the headline: “Jerry Falwell Jr. And A Young Pool Attendant Launched A Business That Sparked A Bitter Dispute.”
Granda tried to restart his life in D.C., but the “pool boy” stories kept coming.
“My life is absolutely ruined,” he texted Becki in December of 2018 along with a photo of the coverage. He threatened suicide.
“When they find my lifeless body hanging in the woods, please make sure Logan is returned to my family,” he wrote, referring to his dog. “Goodbye.”
“Stay off social media,” Becki replied. “It’s all left wing nut jobs. That’s from Jerry.”
Granda said he believes he missed out on internships because of the notoriety. Even when the lawsuit was finally settled in October, the scandal still clung to him.
Granda began demanding the Falwells buy him out last year. When they wouldn’t, he decided the only thing left was to go public.
“Since you’re okay with ruining my life, I am going to take the kamikaze route,” he wrote Jerry in June. “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 texted a photo of himself in front of a microphone, recording a podcast.
“You should by now understand that I will not be extorted,” Falwell replied. “I have always treated you fairly and been restrained in response to your threats because I did not wish to ruin your life. Going forward stop contacting me and my family.”‘So proud of you!’
Granda collapsed into a chair on the rooftop of his apartment building in the D.C. suburbs, rubbing his eyes with one hand while nursing a can of iced coffee in the other.
It had been four days since Jerry Falwell stepped down as president of Liberty University, a move that will earn him $10.5 million in severance.
After years of hiding his relationship with the Falwells, Granda was now in the middle of a media blitz. He had woken up before dawn to go on “Good Morning America,” had an interview with the Associated Press in the afternoon and had a trip that evening to CNN to talk to Anderson Cooper.
The interviews were being arranged pro bono by Kurt Bardella, a former Republican congressional aide whose ties to the Lincoln Project have led to accusations that Granda is getting paid by the anti-Trump outfit.
But Granda insisted he hadn’t been paid to go public. Instead, he said his decision to step forward now was because of Falwell’s increasingly erratic behavior.
In early August, Falwell took an indefinite leave from Liberty after apologizing for a photo he posted on Instagram showing him with his pants unzipped, stomach exposed and his arm around a young woman.
“That’s what allowed me to be like, OK. I think if I come forward, people are going to believe me,” Granda said.
He had tried to prepare his parents and girlfriend. But now there were news vans outside his parents’ house in Miami and his girlfriend would begin getting Instagram messages from Becki, warning her not to trust Granda.
In the days before the Reuters article was published, Granda said the Falwells’ attorneys produced his texts mentioning suicide as proof of his instability, and a letter he’d once written at Jerry’s behest denying anything inappropriate as evidence he was lying.
“The Falwells are trying to say I preyed upon them,” he said. “But they’re the ones that approached me. . . . They’re the ones that sucked me in.”
He hoped speaking up would help him find a job and move on with his life. But he remains tied to the Falwells through the South Beach property.
On Aug. 14, he texted Becki a photo of his Georgetown diploma as a reminder, he said, that he was no longer the 20-year-old she’d approached at the side of the pool.
“Congratulations,” she wrote back. “So proud of you!”
Her tone changed 10 days later, when the Reuters article came out.
“I hope you’re happy and that you were paid very well,” she wrote that night. “Jerry just resigned.”
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