Orlando Sentinel

Liberty University files $10M suit against former president

- By Ruth Graham

Liberty University has sued Jerry Falwell Jr. for $10 million, exacerbati­ng the messy divorce between the Christian university and its former president whose family name has been synonymous with the university since its founding.

The suit filed Thursday alleges breach of contract and fiduciary duty. It claims Falwell withheld scandalous and potentiall­y damaging informatio­n from Liberty’s board of trustees, while negotiatin­g a generous new contract for himself in 2019 under false pretenses. Falwell also failed to disclose and address “his personal impairment by alcohol,” the suit alleges.

In August, Falwell claimed that he was being threatened with extortion by a man who had a yearslong sexual relationsh­ip with Falwell’s wife, Becki. The suit claims that by keeping the sexual entangleme­nt and resulting “extortion” a secret, Falwell endangered and later damaged Liberty’s reputation. Instead of divulging the active threat to Liberty’s board, “Falwell Jr. chose personal protection,” the suit claims.

A spokesman for Liberty University, Scott Lamb, said the school had no comment on the suit. Falwell did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment Friday morning.

The university filed the suit on the same day that its board of trustees arrived in Lynchburg, Virginia, for its semiannual meeting, at which they are set to discuss the university’s future, including its search for a permanent leader. Jerry Prevo, a close associate of Falwell’s father and the former pastor of a large church in Alaska, has been serving as interim president since August. Prevo is also a member of the board’s powerful executive committee.

The suit is likely to rattle that normally placid gathering, which Falwell had used to dazzle the board with flashy presentati­ons about Liberty’s growth and influence under his leadership. The suit alleges that Falwell deceived the board’s executive committee into redesignin­g his contract to include a higher severance payout if he resigned for “good reason” or if Liberty terminated his contract without cause. Falwell claimed to the committee that this would serve as a “safety valve” for both him and the university if his fullthroat­ed support of former President Donald Trump proved damaging to the school’s reputation.

The real reason for negotiatin­g the deal, the suit claims, was to protect against the possibilit­y that Giancarlo Granda, the former pool attendant who had the affair with Becki Falwell, would publicly reveal his relationsh­ip with the family.

The suit includes new details about the family yacht outing in 2020 that led to Falwell’s suspension before his resignatio­n.

In early August, Falwell posted a photo to his Instagram account in which his pants were unbuttoned and he had his arm around a pregnant Liberty employee who had her belly exposed. Falwell was holding what appeared to be an alcoholic beverage; his caption joked that it was “just black water.”

The suit claims that Becki Falwell took the photograph against the objections of the employee and her husband, Jerry Falwell’s personal assistant. Jerry Falwell promised not to show the photo to others but later posted it to his public Instagram account.

After Falwell embarked on a disastrous attempt to explain himself in the media, Becki Falwell privately contacted three members of the executive committee to express concerns about her husband’s excessive drinking, the suit alleges.

 ?? AL DRAGO/THE NEW YORK TIMES 2017 ?? Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, prepares to introduce President Trump at a commenceme­nt ceremony in Lynchburg, Virginia.
AL DRAGO/THE NEW YORK TIMES 2017 Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, prepares to introduce President Trump at a commenceme­nt ceremony in Lynchburg, Virginia.

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