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Both sides have confirmed a sexual component to the business relationship between Jerry and Becki Falwell and the young Fontainebleau Miami Beach employee they befriended on vacation. The hotel meeting spawned a “pool boy” saga with threads that included a corporate-jet getaway to meet future president Donald Trump and a hunt for racy photos in Miami by Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen.
In a statement to the Washington Examiner, Jerry Falwell Jr. described an affair between Becki Falwell and Giancarlo Granda, whom they met when the 20-year-old from the Miami area was working as a pool attendant at the Fontainebleau. He claimed Granda asked for money in exchange for not revealing details about their relationship.
The Falwell disclosure Sunday was timed to preempt Granda’s own exclusive interview with Reuters released Monday, in which Granda confirmed a sexual relationship with Becki Falwell but said Jerry Falwell was watching nearby during the encounters.
The published account corroborates for the first time at least some of the innuendo that’s swirled around the “pool boy” story, which went public in 2018 over the mystery of how a national evangelical leader wound up in a venture with a young man from Miami to operate a cut-rate hostel on South Beach.
Both Falwell and Granda now describe the encounters as destructive to them. On Monday, the Washington Post and other outlets reported Falwell was stepping down from Liberty University a day after he released a statement describing severe weight loss and an “emotional toll” from the affair. Later reports had Falwell denying he had resigned, but by Tuesday morning his resignation was confirmed.
Granda told Reuters he felt the Falwells groomed him for a sexual relationship. On Monday night, he told the Miami Herald: “I wish I could tell my younger self to stay away from the Falwells.”
The Falwell and Granda business and personal entanglements remained out of public sight for six years until news on the hostel venture broke two years ago.
The original BuzzFeed story revealed the Falwell family spent $4.6 million in 2013 to purchase the Miami Hostel, a two-story property at 810 Alton Road with dormitory sleeping upstairs and a liquor store on the ground floor. The corporation running the acquisition included Granda as an officer.
At the time, Falwell was president of Liberty University, the private evangelical college in Lynchburg, Virginia, that his father founded, and a key proponent of Trump in the Christian conservative movement. He temporarily stepped away from that post weeks ago.
Public records showed Granda held a 25% stake in the business. Vacation photos and social media posts showed the young man was a frequent companion of the couple. That included a 2012 trip on a Falwell jet to attend a speech by Trump, then four years away from winning the 2016 presidential election. A photograph shows Granda shaking Trump’s hand.
Trump loomed in the saga again in 2019 when Cohen, the former real estate mogul’s longtime “fixer,” was recorded recounting a time when he tried to retrieve “personal photos” of the Falwells from a cellphone. In the surreptitious recording by comedian Tom Arnold, Cohen referenced the “pool boy” story and photos “the guy ended up getting.”
“It had nothing to do with Jerry having relations with the pool boy and so on,” Cohen told Arnold. Cohen was recently released from prison in July after a 2018 conviction for lying to Congress defending Trump. He’s since had a falling out with the president and is releasing what he’s describing as a tell-all book.
‘Pool boy’ back in the news
The dueling media revelations on Sunday and Monday revived a “pool boy” story that has been dormant for most of 2020 — though references did start picking up in early August when Falwell temporarily stepped down from his Liberty post. The stunning shift came at the board’s request, and followed Falwell’s posting on his Instagram account a photo of himself posing with unzipped jeans next to a woman on a rented yacht.
He brushed off the image as a gag photograph from a costume party with his wife’s pregnant assistant (who also couldn’t zip her jeans), but the incident raised more questions about Falwell’s private life while leading a university with a strict conduct code.
The burst of on-the-record details has so far not included the other young man from Miami who had previously claimed a personal tie to the Falwells that led to a business dispute.
Gordon Bello, a high school friend of Granda’s, filed a lawsuit in 2017 that claimed he and his father, a local builder, had pitched the Falwells on the hostel idea after Bello had formed a “personal relationship” with Becki Falwell. Bello claimed he was cut out of the real estate deal that wound up making Granda a partner with the Falwells, and a Falwell son, Trey.
A University of Miami law school graduate and former legislative aide at the Miami-Dade County Commission, Bello was previously known as Jesus Fernandez Jr. In court papers, he said he and his father changed their names due to issues “directly related” to the lawsuit against the Falwells and Granda.
The Miami-Dade Circuit Court case, which referred to Granda derisively as a “pool boy,” settled in 2019 for an undisclosed sum.
Granda, now 29, recently graduated from Georgetown University with a masters in real estate development, and now runs a start-up called Gaming Detox, according to Twitter posts. On an interview on the podcast he hosts, “A Scoop of Balance,” Granda described the venture as a company matching coaches with hard-core video gamers who face addiction issues with games.
Granda described himself as having an addiction problem with gaming, a habit that eventually prompted him to quit his high school baseball team to free up time for video games. “I was sucked in,” he said, recalling an all-night play session at a cousin’s house in 2003. “I’ll never forget it.”
In his interview with Reuters, Granda said he became an “ideal target” for the Falwells. Reuters reported that Granda said “Becki and I developed an intimate relationship and Jerry enjoyed watching from the corner of the room.” He said the sexual encounters continued through 2018, but that the ties began to fray over the hostel deal.
Falwell’s statement to the Washington Examiner described him and his wife admiring Granda’s ambitions when they met on vacation in 2012. “We were impressed by his initiative in suggesting a local real estate opportunity,” he said, saying the two became close with him and his family.
“Shortly thereafter, Becki had an inappropriate personal relationship with this person, something in which I was not involved — it was nonetheless very upsetting to learn about,” Falwell said in the statement, which includes multiple Scripture quotations.
The statement accused Granda of “false claims” about their relationship, and said he demanded money under the “guise” of the hostel venture. It includes no details on the future of the South Beach property.
In the Reuters story, Granda shared text messages he sent to Jerry Falwell in which he accused Falwell of being “okay with ruining my life...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.”