Jerry Falwell Jr. has filed suit against Liberty University, accusing the evangelical school his father founded of defaming him and ruining his reputation following his resignation amid scandal.
Attorneys for Falwell, 58, allege that Liberty, from which he resigned as president and chancellor in August, “set out to destroy” his reputation by sharing statements “that affirm the outrageous lies of an unstable individual” who allegedly attempted to blackmail him, according to the suit, which was filed on Wednesday and has been obtained by PEOPLE.
The individual in question is Giancarlo Granda, a former Miami pool attendant who told Reuters that he had an affair with Falwell’s wife Becki while Falwell “enjoyed watching from the corner of the room.”
Both Jerry and Becki have confirmed her affair with Granda took place, though both have denied Jerry’s involvement, and have accused Granda of trying to blackmail them, which he has denied.
"Other than God and my family, there is nothing in the world I love more than Liberty University," Falwell said in a statement, according to Politico. “While I have nothing but love and appreciation for the Liberty community, and I had hoped to avoid litigation, I must take the necessary steps to restore my reputation and hopefully help repair the damage to the Liberty University brand in the process.”
The suit accuses Granda of orchestrating a politically motivated, “malicious smear campaign” against Falwell, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, and accuses Liberty of failing to stand by him as he was targeted in the press.
“Liberty University not only accepted the salacious and baseless accusations against the Falwells at face value, but directly participated in the defamation,” the suit says.
Falwell alleges that by forcing his resignation, allegedly without so much as investigating the reports, Liberty “sent the unmistakable message to the public” that Granda’s claims were true.
“Up until that point, Granda’s lies were just that – lies, vigorously denied by Mr. Falwell,” the suit says. “But Liberty gave those lies an air of truth and righteousness.”
The suit adds that even after Falwell left the school, Liberty continued to try and tarnish his legacy, namely through a speech given to the school community that referred to Falwell’s alleged behavior as “sinful” and an “embarrassment,” as well as a press release condemning Falwell.
He also claims to have been “systematically erase[d]” from the school’s history, as he was scrubbed from the website, portraits of him were removed from campus and faculty and staff members were barred from talking to him.
Jerry Falwell Sr. founded Liberty in 1971, and his son stepped in following Falwell Sr.’s death in 2007. Falwell claims in the suit to have saved the school from financial collapse.
Prior to his resignation in late August, Falwell was already on an indefinite leave of absence following a since-deleted Instagram photo that showed him posing with his wife’s assistant with his pants unzipped and a dark drink in his hand that he claimed was “black water.”
Attorneys for Falwell and Becki Falwell did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
A spokesperson for Liberty University declined comment when reached by PEOPLE, saying the university had not yet been served the lawsuit.
An attorney for Granda did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, though Granda previously denied extortion claims, calling them “false” and “ridiculous.”
“That’s just them trying to smear me,” he told Good Morning America in August.
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