Liberty University has sued its former president, Jerry Falwell Jr., for withholding information from school officials about alleged threats for extortion and undermining the university’s moral standards.
Falwell is a prominent member of the Evangelical Christian community in the US and the son of the university’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell. He was one of the first conservative Christian leaders to support Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency in early 2016 and his outspoken support for the former president often attracted national attention.
The civil suit was filed last Thursday in the Lynchburg Circuit Court in Virginia and claims damages on three counts of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and statutory conspiracy.
It alleges that Falwell breached his duties towards the university by failing to disclose his wife Becki’s relationship with a pool attendant who had attempted to extort them multiple times from 2014 to 2019. The man, Giancarlo Granda, was cognizant of the couple’s prominent role at the university and had material on the Falwells’ lifestyle that not only clashed with the university’s moral standards but was also capable of damaging vicariously its reputation.
Falwell did not disclose Granda’s alleged attempts at extortion to the Board of Trustees and instead used his increased public profile during the Trump presidency to manipulate the university’s Executive Committee to relax their severance policies. During renegotiation of his employment contract, he negotiated a significant annual raise to $1,250,000, severance of two years’ pay if he resigned for “good reason” or was terminated without “cause,” and a “rabbi trust” plan for retirement benefits.
The university alleges that it would have not negotiated such a contract had Falwell complied with his obligation as President and Chancellor to be “truthful and candid”:
Falwell Jr. wanted Liberty to pay severance and retirement benefits to him if Granda revealed the Granda Allegations, and Falwell Jr. thus knowingly withheld from Liberty material information that would have altered the nature of the negotiations of the 2019 Employment Agreement. Falwell Jr. said nothing of his belief that procuring Granda’s silence.
Liberty seeks $10,000,000 in compensatory damages, which may be tripled under Virginia law, as well as $350,000 in punitive damages for Falwell’s “willful and wanton” actions that “disregarded the rights of Liberty.” Falwell slammed the lawsuit on Sunday as “full of lies and half-truths” and stated that he will defend himself vigorously.