Miami-Dade County

Jerry Falwell Jr. asks Miami judge to drop suit over alleged South Beach hostel deal

The alleged partnership offer by Jerry Falwell Jr. that’s at the heart of the evangelical leader’s “pool boy” saga is based on flimsy evidence and a timeline of events that don’t merit consideration by a Miami judge, Falwell said in court papers this week.

New filings in the breach-of-contract suit against the Liberty University president amplify past arguments by Falwell that his accuser, Miami-Dade commission aide Gordon Bello, is trying to wring money from the Liberty University president over brief discussions about a real estate venture with a future Falwell partner, Giancarlo Granda.

Granda is a former Fontainebleau pool attendant who met Falwell and his wife, Rebecca, during the couple’s beach vacation in 2012 and went on to help oversee renovations of the South Beach hostel that a family entity purchased in 2013 for $4.7 million.

The 2017 litigation filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court used the term “pool boy” to describe Granda, a description that helped thrust details of the young man’s personal and professional relationship with the Falwells into national attention. Granda flew on private jets with the Falwells, joined them on at least one trip to the Florida Keys and met Donald Trump with Falwell during the future president’s 2012 trip to Liberty.

Granda is now 28 and pursuing a master’s in real estate at Georgetown. City records show he was granted a 25 percent stake in the two-story Miami Hostel, a low-cost dormitory for tourists with a liquor store and restaurant on the ground floor off Alton Road. Tax and banking records given to Miami Beach showed Granda earning about $300 a week for his work, and the hostel losing money in 2015 and 2016.

The other primary partner in the venture was Trey Falwell, a Falwell son and a Liberty University executive. City records show both were involved in navigating Miami Beach’s permitting process for renovations of the 1939 building.

Bello, a high school friend of Granda’s who used to go by the name Jesus Fernandez Jr., claims he and his father, now named Jett Bello, pitched Falwell the idea of purchasing a South Beach hostel when he was scouting business opportunities for Granda in 2012. The Bellos first filed court papers against Falwell and Granda in 2015, with the father and son claiming they were left out of the promised hostel deal.

A judge has already dismissed fraud counts in the suit and dropped the elder Bello as a plaintiff. The younger Bello filed an amended complaint in July, and the Sept. 10 response from a Falwell lawyer is the argument for Judge Spencer Eig to dismiss the revised suit altogether.

A Bello lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. Gordon Bello, legislative director for Miami-Dade Commission Chairwoman Audrey Edmonson, has declined interview requests on the litigation. Joshua Spector, Falwell’s Miami lawyer, declined to comment, saying he doesn’t speak publicly on active litigation.

While Falwell has acknowledged meeting with the Bellos in the lobby of the Loews hotel, his lawyers say the encounter did not involve a promise of a future stake in any sort of hostel venture.

“There is simply no evidence to bolster the alleged business agreement,” the Falwell pleading said. “Plaintiff has not presented any written agreements, nor has he presented even a letter, text message, or email evidencing the parties’ relationship.”

Falwell and his family were frequent travelers to South Florida, and city records showed the elder Falwell, a lawyer, was also active in helping resolve permitting issues with the Miami Hostel, located at 810 Alton Rd.

Falwell’s Miami travels received more attention this month after Reuters and Politico published critical stories of his tenure at Liberty, a Christian university founded by his father, the late Jerry Falwell.

Reuters documented how Liberty arranged for Falwell Jr.’s personal trainer to acquire a fitness center on property once owned by the school. That trainer, Benjamin Crosswhite, traveled with Falwell to Miami on a Liberty jet for what the school said was a trip to provide nutrition and fitness information for Falwell’s annual executive physical exam.

The Politico story included a photo showing Falwell with Rebecca and Trey at Miami Beach’s Wall nightclub in July 2014. When the elder Falwell said in a statement there were no photos of him at WALL and that a reporter might be “seeing something that was photo-shopped,” the social-scene photographer behind the images, Seth Browarnik, produced five more images of the Falwells from that night.

On Thursday, Falwell posted on Twitter: “I never denied going into a club with my family to listen to music for about 30 minutes years ago. I only denied I asked anyone to scrub pics of me.” He also said this week that Liberty was pursuing criminal charges against whoever supplied university emails to Politico.