Jerry Falwell Jr., one of the country's most prominent evangelicals and embattled leader of one of its largest Christian schools, spoke out Sunday in an extraordinary statement to deny that he and his wife had together been sexually involved with a pool attendant they befriended in Miami.
Falwell described the claim as an extortion plot of "increasingly threatening behavior" straight out of Fatal Attraction.
That pool attendant, Giancarlo Granda, told a different story. And he said he had text messages, phone calls and photos to back him up.
By Monday evening, Falwell was at first denying and then confirming that he had resigned as president and chancellor of Liberty University, the school he has run since his dad, the pastor Jerry Falwell Sr., died in 2007. The elder Falwell founded Liberty in 1971.
The younger Falwell had been on an indefinite leave of absence from Liberty since earlier this month after he posted a photo to social media showing him with his arm around his wife's assistant and his pants undone — behavior that runs counter to the spirit of Liberty's code of conduct and undercut his evangelical standing.
And then, this week, the alleged affair broke open.
Alex Wong/Getty; Shannon Finney/Getty; Facebook From left: Jerry Falwell Jr., Becki Falwell and Giancarlo Granda
Speaking with Reuters, Granda detailed how he "developed an intimate relationship" with Falwell's wife, Becki Falwell, stretching from 2012 to 2018 — with Jerry as an audience.
"Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room,” Granda said.
Reuters reported that Granda provided "emails, text messages and other evidence" that he said corroborated his sexual allegations. The relationship began in March 2012, while he was working as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel.
He was 20 years old when he first met the Falwells, he said; public records show Jerry was then 49 and Becki was 45.
Granda, now 29, claimed to Reuters that he would meet up with the Falwells "multiple times per year" at hotels in Miami and New York as well as their home in Virginia.
Granda's interview was published on Monday, but the Falwells knew it was coming. In a statement given to The Washington Examiner on Sunday, Jerry offered a dueling account.
He denied the claim of an affair involving both him and his wife, and he said Becki, now 53, was the one who had cheated. Jerry, 58, did not name Granda but he referred to a hotel employee exactly like him.
"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. ... 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," Jerry said in his statement.
"Shortly thereafter," he said, "Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person."
But the couple overcame that indiscretion, Jerry said — and continued growing close to Granda and his family and friends.
Eventually, he claimed, Granda "became increasingly angry and aggressive" and "began threatening to publicly reveal this secret relationship with Becki ... unless we agreed to pay him substantial monies."
"It was like living on a roller coaster," Jerry told the Examiner.
Reached for comment by the paper, Granda denied the allegation of blackmail and said "the WHOLE truth will come out."
"The Falwell’s attempt to sandbag me, and the Examiner, with a last minute story without providing the Examiner clear evidence that this was not simply an ‘affair’ with concocted allegations of extortion reeks [of] desperation,” Granda said.
The paper wrote that "Falwell’s team provided emails and texts that it said substantiate its allegations," but those materials were not detailed further.
Representatives for Jerry Falwell Jr. and Granda did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment on Monday. Liberty University said Monday that the confusion over Falwell's status was because he had initially agreed to resign and then "withdrew it."
Shannon Finney/Getty Jerry Falwell Jr. and Becki Falwell
A Tangled Web
The Falwells and Granda were not just connected personally.
As Jerry said in his statement to the Examiner, after first meeting Granda, Jerry and his wife "encouraged him to pursue an education and a career and we were impressed by his initiative in suggesting a local real estate opportunity."
BuzzFeed News and The New York Times reported that the three went into business together. In 2013, about a year into the affair as Granda describes it, the Falwell family purchased a Miami Beach youth hostel and offered Granda a share in the company, since he lived in Miami and could serve as manager, according to Buzzfeed News.
Both Granda and Becki Falwell were listed as partners along with Jerry Falwell Jr.'s son, Jerry "Trey" Falwell III, BuzzFeed reported. Falwell Jr. had provided the money for the down payment on the loan.
This chapter of the saga was made more complicated after a father and son whom Granda knew then sued both him and the Falwells, saying they were promised a stake in the Miami Beach youth hostel the Falwells purchased in exchange for a hand in helping put the business together.
That suit, obtained by BuzzFeed, alleged that "Granda was flown around by the Falwells in their private jet (or in a jet owned/leased by Liberty College). Falwell Jr. repeated various offers to Granda and indicated that he wanted to help Granda establish a new career and build a business."
As that legal fight dragged on, it "devolved into a fight over compromising photos," the Times reported — specifically: "It was understood that between Mr. Granda, the Fernandezes [the father and son] and their lawyers, one or more people were in possession of photographs that could be used as leverage against the Falwells."
Enter Michael Cohen.
The disgraced attorney and former confidant of President Donald Trump grew close with the Falwells after Trump visited Liberty in 2012, according to the Times. Last March, in a call with anti-Trump actor Tom Arnold, Cohen was recorded saying he helped the Falwells try to stop the release of "a bunch of photographs, personal photographs."
"These are photos between husband and wife," Cohen said on the call with Arnold last year, adding as a punchline "the evangelicals are kinkier than Tom Arnold."
The images were destroyed when Cohen got involved, according to Reuters. On the call with Arnold, he said, “I was going to pay him, and I was going to get the negatives and do an agreement where they turn over all the technology that has the photographs" but "the guy just either deleted them on his own or what have you.”
Cohen also mentioned a "pool boy" on that call with Arnold but was not more specific about "the guy" he was going to pay.
The alleged photos have never been independently corroborated. The Times reported "three people said they had seen at least one photo, though their descriptions varied and could not be verified."
The Falwells denied the suit against them in the hostel deal. That complaint, first filed in state court in 2015, was eventually settled in federal court last fall for an undisclosed sum paid by Jerry Falwell Jr., records show.
Facebook Giancarlo Granda
‘Best Friend’ to ‘Kamikaze’
Granda claimed to Reuters in his interview Monday that the affair between him and the Falwells went on for some six years before their falling out — "in part because he wanted to dissolve his ties with the couple and fell into a business dispute with them," Reuters wrote.
Rather than seeking payment for his silence, Granda wanted to "negotiate a buyout from a business arrangement he says he had with the couple," according to Reuters.
Granda backed up some of his affair claims by providing the outlet with screenshots from a FaceTime conversation with Becki and text messages where, according to Reuters, she said, "Right now I am just missing you like crazy... Have you had this effect on all of your lady friends?"
Audio from 2018 that seems to have captured the Falwells speaking with Granda was also obtained by the outlet. In a clip from a call published by Reuters, Becki is apparently heard talking about how she had "feelings" for Granda and complained over how he had relationships with other people, while Jerry said to Granda, "You’re going to make her jealous."
The audio shows Granda saying on that call, "You don't care about me anymore." But then he is heard calling Becki his "best friend."
This summer, however, his tone was much sharper. In texts he gave to Reuters from June, he wrote to Jerry: "Since you’re okay with ruining my life, I am going to take the kamikaze route. 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."
According to what Granda provided, Jerry wrote back: "You should by now understand that I will not be extorted. 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."
In his statement to the Examiner, shorty before Granda himself went public, Jerry insisted that telling this story was his last — best — option.
"Even years after the improper relationship had ended, this person continued to be aggressive with Becki and me in a variety of ways. We finally decided that we had to further withdraw completely from him, which resulted in him stepping up his threats to share more outrageous and fabricate claims about us (under the guise of that business entity)," he said.
He went on: "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."
Jerry Falwell Jr/Instagram The Falwells with President Donald Trump (center)
Granda's is the most explosive but not the first story of impropriety about Jerry Falwell Jr. this year.
A since-deleted Instagram post showed him standing with his shirt partially rolled up and pants unzipped alongside a woman who was wearing a similar outfit. He later identified her as his wife's assistant, according to a post on Liberty University's website.
On Aug. 7, the Executive Committee of Liberty University’s Board of Trustees announced that Falwell would be taking an "indefinite leave of absence" from his roles.
He told a local radio station that the picture was meant as a joke during a costume party and apologized in a radio interview with WLNI, "I’ve promised my kids ... I’m going to try to be a good boy from here on out."
Nonetheless, the post was anathema to Liberty's religious values. Falwell, a lawyer and developer rather than a pastor, had built his own reputation in part on greatly expanding Liberty, according to BuzzFeed News.
In more recent years, he was one of the earliest major figures on the Christian right to embrace Trump ahead of Trump's 2016 win, and he has remained a staunch ally.
Jerry Falwell Jr./Instagram The since-deleted Instagram photo that led to Falwell Jr.'s initial leave of absence from Liberty University in August.
On Friday, prior to the affair allegation, Liberty issued another statement saying that "the decision whether or not to retain Falwell as President has not yet been made."
In its most recent statement on Monday, the school said that since his initial leave "additional matters came to light that made it clear that it would not be in the best interest of the University for him to return from leave and serve as President."
The university's acting president, Jerry Prevo, was quoted saying: “I call upon the University community and supporters to be in prayer for the University and for all its leadership, past, present and future, as we walk with the Lord through this stormy time of transition.”
In his statement to the Examiner, Falwell spoke of being rocked by his wife's affair with Granda — while maintaining he'd not been involved — and shared some of what he called his resulting pain from both that mistake and Granda's alleged threats.
Of his wife, he said, "Thankfully, our love has never been stronger. Becki and I 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."
Granda, too, had learned something.
"Whether it was immaturity, naïveté, instability or a combination thereof," he told Reuters, "it was this ‘mindset’ that the Falwells likely detected in deciding that I was the ideal target for their sexual escapades."