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Liberty University accepts Jerry Falwell Jr.'s resignation amid scandal

Liberty University president forced out of job over sex scandal
Liberty University president forced out of jo... 02:00

Liberty University says it has accepted Jerry Falwell Jr.'s resignation as president following allegations of sexual impropriety. The evangelical college in Lynchburg, Virginia, said in a statement Tuesday that Falwell will no longer serve as its president and chancellor, and will step down from its board of directors, "effective immediately."

CBS News has confirmed that Liberty University may owe Falwell $10.5 million over the next two years — $1.25 million in salary each year and an $8 million lump sum — as his contract stipulated would occur if he resigned should his responsibilities be curtailed, which they were when he was placed on indefinite leave earlier this month. The Wall Street Journal first reported the money possibly owed to Falwell.

The announcement came after a day of conflicting statements about Falwell's status. A Liberty spokesman said late Monday that Falwell had agreed to resign, but "following media reports about the resignation, withdrew it." That followed a Reuters report alleging Falwell's wife, Becki Falwell, had a longtime sexual relationship with a business associate while Falwell looked on.

Giancarlo Granda, 29, told Reuters he was 20 years old when he met the couple. Granda, a former pool attendant at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, said his relationship with the Falwells soured, in part, when he wanted to end the relationship and exit their business partnership.

Falwell issued a statement to the Washington Examiner on Sunday night denying any misconduct with Granda. Falwell said his wife had an affair with Granda and claimed that Granda was now trying to extort the couple. 

"Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved," Falwell told the Examiner. 

Falwell told CBS News on Tuesday that "90%" of the Reuters report is false.

"She was at the pool and he just started hitting on her, and she was 41, he was 21, and she was flattered that a young man was taking notes on her, and she made a mistake, and that's it," Falwell told CBS News' Sara Cook. 

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

Granda denied extorting the Falwells, telling Reuters that he was trying to negotiate an end to his business partnership with the couple.

Falwell called Granda a "predator" and said he went public to put a stop to the situation. "Having to wake up every morning with a knot in my stomach wondering if he's going to come out and tell a story on my wife in the press is something that I'm not going to live with anymore," he told CBS News. 

Granda 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." He said he is not profiting off the Falwells. 

"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."    

FILE PHOTO: Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. speaks during the final day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, July 21, 2016. Brian Snyder / REUTERS

According to Liberty spokesman Scott Lamb, Falwell agreed to resign immediately on Monday, but then instructed his attorneys to not tender the letter for immediate resignation. 

The university said in a statement Tuesday that "after agreeing yesterday to immediately resign then reversing course," an attorney for Falwell then "sent the resignation letter late last night to members of the Board's Executive Committee pursuant to the terms of his contract of employment."

Falwell called early reports of his resignation "misunderstandings." "Somebody got ahead of themselves, misunderstood what I was saying," he told CBS News. "And I did have second thoughts after we talked. But I did decide late last night to go ahead and do it."

He also said there's "no animosity" between him and the Board, and that the Board was very "loving and supportive" when he tendered his resignation. Liberty's Board voted unanimously to accept Falwell's resignation on Tuesday, according to the university.

Falwell, who is 58, has been on leave from Liberty since earlier this month after he posted a photo on his Instagram account with his pants unzipped, holding a beer and with his arm around a pregnant woman whose shorts were also unzipped and belly exposed. While Falwell apologized and said it was from a "costume party," Liberty University bars alcohol consumption and has a strict code of conduct. 

"I resigned late last night for good reason, because the Board put me on leave... for showing my belly in a picture on Instagram," Falwell told CBS News. "They graciously accepted my terms of resignation, they didn't challenge it."

Following the Board's vote to remove Falwell, Liberty's acting chairman Dr. Allen McFarland said in a statement that the university's "future is very bright and in capable hands of leaders who are committed to being good stewards of what the Lord has entrusted!" 

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. He said he's proud of the work he's done there, and "I'm gonna leave on a high note for my family's sake."

Falwell, who became a strong early supporter of President Trump during his 2016 campaign and helped solidify his base among evangelical voters, told CBS News he suspects he's being targeted for political reasons. "Bottom line is it's an election year and I kind of expected this," he said. 

The school's Board will select a search committee for its new president while Jerry Prevo continues on as acting president, according to the university's statement. 

Liberty said Tuesday that its "heartfelt prayers are with (Falwell) and his family as he steps away from his life's work."

Caroline Linton and Sara Cook contributed to this report.  

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