Evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. — the first in his religious community to officially endorse Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign — helped a young pool boy he met while on vacation with his wife start a business, according to BuzzFeed News.
Two others involved in the enterprise filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade County claiming Falwell Jr. cut them out of the deal once the pool boy was brought on board.
The suit, which has not been previously reported, was brought by a father and son who claim that after they helped conceive of the business, the pool attendant and Falwell wrongly cut them out of it. The suit says that while Falwell Jr. and his wife were guests at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach in 2012, they developed a “friendly relationship” with the pool attendant, Giancarlo Granda; flew Granda in a private jet; and eventually backed him in a business venture, setting up a hostel that offers low-cost dorm-style nightly accommodations to visitors. The pool attendant, according to public records databases, was 21 when he met the Falwells.
A representative for Falwell Jr. and his family emailed BuzzFeed News that Granda was “offered a share” in the Alton Hostel venture because he lived in Miami and would act as a manager. Granda, Falwell’s wife, and Falwell's son are partners in the company that owned the hostel. Falwell Jr. loaned the company the down payment to purchase the $4.65 million property but was not a partner in the venture, said the representative, who asked not to be identified. He added that Granda had flown only once in a private plane the Falwells had rented.
Interestingly, long before Falwell Jr. would endorse Trump for president, he had formed some type of relationship with Trump’s former personal attorney and self-described “fixer” Michael Cohen.
Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen, who is now facing a federal criminal investigation, helped arrange Falwell Jr.’s endorsement of Trump in January 2016, BuzzFeed News has learned.
The relationship between Cohen and Falwell Jr. has not been previously reported, but the two have been acquainted since 2012, according to a source with direct knowledge of Falwell’s decision to endorse Trump. The source, a high-ranking official at Liberty University, said that Falwell Jr. occasionally visited Cohen’s office in New York City but that there was no business relationship between the two men.
According to a separate source with knowledge of Trump’s campaign, Cohen was so confident in Falwell Jr.’s support that he and Trump assured others, even before Trump announced his candidacy, that Falwell Jr. would issue an endorsement.
When Trump visited Liberty University in January 2016, Cohen reached out to Falwell Jr. urging him to issue a formal endorsement and reportedly contacted him again later to remind him of his promise to endorse Trump, BuzzFeed said.
Cohen, who did not have a formal role in the Trump campaign, is facing intense public scrutiny because of a federal criminal investigation into his activities. Much of the recent attention has focused on Cohen’s payment of $130,000 in hush money during the 2016 election to dissuade a porn star from talking about what she says was a sexual relationship with Trump. Other business activities by Cohen have also attracted scrutiny: He reportedly arranged for a payoff to a Playboy model for her silence about an affair involving the finance chair of the Republican National Committee, and he accepted $4.4 million in consulting fees from various corporations, including Novartis, AT&T, and a company connected to a Russian oligarch.
There is no indication that federal investigators are interested in Cohen’s relationship with Falwell Jr.
The source familiar with Falwell’s endorsement decision says that he is “sure” Falwell discussed the Florida lawsuit with Cohen.